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For the Fans: Some Have Lost Focus of Those Driving the Sport

Story by Tim Terry/Feature Photo by McCarthy Photographic

Scotia Speedworld’s second annual Fanfest event has come and gone. Fans, who were admitted to the grandstands free of admission if they picked up a ticket from a participating track sponsor, were treated to seven main features that provided non stop action on track for just over three hours along with a 30 minute Meet and Greet session prior to the green flag.

The event was a success and while the attendance is still being calculated, a very healthy grandstand crowd got to take in the night’s racing.

As I cruised the track talking to drivers as they met with fans, I couldn’t help but notice there were some cars missing. I wasn’t alone as the point was brought up to me twice more in the pit area after the event was completed. We’re not talking two or three cars that were absent, we’re looking at around a dozen or so that were missing from the pre-race Meet and Greet with the fans. The absent cars prompted me to ask on my personal Facebook page where some of those teams were.

Now, I understand if a car cannot come out because work is needed to compete on the evening’s card. A prime example of this is when Dylan Blenkhorn’s #67 car was wrecked in a Dash for Cash accident during last year’s IWK 250. The team thrashed on the car to get a new clip on their Pro Stock prior to the big show and the team needed the time during the autograph session to get the car together.

I had a couple responses to the Facebook status from teams saying their cars were being worked on and I completely understand that. Some, like myself, were a bit puzzled as to why those cars that were not on jackstands were not on track.

It was a couple of messages from two teams, teams that I will keep their identities private, that really struck me and lit a fire – both as a track official and someone who runs a website that has a primary goal of promoting drivers, teams and their sponsors but as importantly – a fan.

One of those messages said that “I didn’t want to and did not have to (go out for the meet and greet) point blank. No one wants an autograph from me, I’m just a four cylinder driver.” Another message, from a driver who was working on his car during the Fanfest Meet and Greet, suggested the track would have more support when track management changes hands because of how “the way drivers are treated at the track.”

Waaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiit a minute.

Without the current track management, there would be no Fanfest. No meet and greet session. No chance to get in front of the fans and display your car with the sponsors that invested money into your racing program. Not only is it a loss to the driver’s sponsors and fans, the faithful ones and the handful of potential new ones to be gained, it’s a snub to the track sponsors and the division sponsor you represent.

Sure, at some point, a driver or team may have an unpleasant experience at a track, you are going to have a bad night or two in your racing career. Wherever that track may be, keep in mind that track is there to give drivers and teams a place to race and to support their lifestyle. Track management is faced with many different situations that arise, remember, they are also a business as well.

Think about it, if that track closes and becomes a parking lot, a department store or a new housing development, that driver and his peers lose a place to race. Sure, they can go out and run 150 kilometers an hour in a 110 zone on a 100 series highway, but I’m pretty sure the judge will look at you pretty funny if you give them the reasoning that you did not like how you were treated by the officer that stopped you for violating the speed limit.

But that is a completely different conversation for another time.

“The Big Picture”

Before we go further, there are many teams that understand what I will call “the big picture.” They seize every opportunity they have to display their car, get in front of the public, pump their sponsors, promote this sport and draw fans in to their local tracks and cheer them on. In turn, it gets those sponsors on your car or truck exposure to oodles of new eyes. Keep in mind, you never know who is in the crowd. It could be that kid that is going to get himself or herself into a Bandolero or Mini Stock when they are old enough or that potential marketing partner that wants to invest in a driver and their effort to promote their racing program because they like what they see in you.

After all, this is 2016. A sponsor is not investing to just have their logo on a car, they are investing in an individual and a team they believe that will represent their car the best on and off the track. Most importantly, and something that shouldn’t be lost, those sponsors are fans of the sport and you.

Tim’s Corner Motorsports has an award for an individual that has that “big picture” at his or her home track thanks in part to Brent Rowley and EIT Race Radios. Just ask our EIT Race Radio Hometown Hero Richard Atkinson and he’ll tell you how important “the big picture” is. Patricia Taylor, Mike Weagle and their Chase the Racecars Fundraising Program is a prime example of this as well.

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Richard Atkinson is a driver who understands that young fans are the future of this sport. (Speedway 660 Photo)

Fanfest was an opportunity for teams at Scotia Speedworld to make that small effort. They are at the track already, hundreds of feet away from being in front of their target market on the front straight for a meet and greet. For those handful of drivers that did not come out and were not thrashing on their cars to get it out on track for racing, they missed a huge opportunity to connect with the race fans and represent themselves on one of the biggest stages of the season.

For me mentioning that on my personal Facebook account, I lost one good friend.

But maybe I’m not losing my mind….

I spoke with Brent Roy in depth about this topic on Monday. Roy races in the RE/MAX Group Four Realty Pro Stock division at Speedway 660 and is a champion in the Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman division. After reading what I had posted, it seemed as if he was as fired up as I was about this whole thing.

“It upsets and disappoints me, it doesn’t make me angry, cause everyone is entitled to their own things and what not.

However in a sport that is so absolutely driven by sponsors and families, this is ludicrous.

You have GOT to support the fans that come to the track, because they support you. Seeing the look on a little kid’s face that is wearing a Lightning McQueen hoodie and rain boots when you say to them, “Hey, do you want to get in the racecar?” That kid is in the car, flicking the switches and making engine noises, imagining he just won the Piston Cup. Can you imagine, for any other reason, why that kid won’t be your fan for life? He will ALWAYS remember when he got to sit in a race car, whether it was Shawn Tucker’s race car, Travis Roma’s race car or Matt Crocker’s race car. For all you know, in his mind, it could be the time he thought he was riding inside of Lightning McQueen. That kid will remember that moment forever. If I know I have an opportunity to take my race car to show kids, you better believe it will be there. I do not understand why any team that isn’t physically able to roll their race car a matter of feet from the pit area to the track would pass up on the opportunity.

It doesn’t end there though.

“If that kid’s Mother sees Roblynn’s Home Hardware, for example, on that car that just made their son or daughter’s day, guess what? When they need a new light bulb or door handle, they are going to remember that. Keep in mind, that gas station on the side of your car, fans will buy their fuel and pop and chips from that Mom and Pop Shop or franchisee because YOU ARE their favorite driver and they are supporting YOU. In turn, your sport, your passion and your lifestyle stays alive. The car keeps running, the track lights stay on and the weeds don’t come up through the black top.

To go a step further, what about if a fan that the driver has no idea about, was at Fanfest on Friday night to see “Robert the Four Cylinder Driver” because Robert’s car is his favorite color, whether it is a shade of blue, green, purple or pink. That fan was there looking for Robert and his car, but that driver did not feel the need to go out because they “did not have to or want to.” Can you even comprehend the level of disappointment that kid would have?”

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The future of our sport is in our youth. Brent Roy is aware and makes every effort he can to display his car to the public. You never know who is in the crowd. (Speedway 660 Photo)

Remember when you were that kid?!

It’s the driver to fan, young or old, interaction that makes them a loyal follower to your racing program and your racing team. Kids that grew up at Scotia Speedworld will always remember who they went for Kiddie Rides with – my first memories of Kiddie Rides included going around the track in Shawn Turple’s Hobby Stock and Dave Kelly’s bright orange and black #89 Four Cylinder Thunder car. Dave brought me a framed picture one night of him and I at one of the Kiddie Rides nights and it was one of the highlights of my young life.

Wait, did I just say “four cylinder Thunder car?”

Going into the pit area after the races, meeting the drivers and getting autographs was a nightly ritual for me and a young kid named Kyle MacMillan, who grew up to win a championship in the Thunder division at Scotia Speedworld. Being able to chat with Dave Potter, Mike Rowe, George Koszkulics and the dozens of other drivers we met on those nights were memories I will never forget. I know for a fact that those nights after the show as a kid following drivers around in the pit area were not lost on him and they were not on me. Maybe that’s half the reason why this bugs me so much.

You know what the coolest thing for that kid that went around the pits in Halifax, Antigonish and Geary trying to chat with drivers and get autographs? He gets to work with those heroes every Friday and Saturday night that he once got autographs of. “Kids,” and I use that loosely because they’re growing up quick, such as DJ Casey, Emily and Adam Meehan, Jarrett and Cole Butcher, Nicholas Naugle, Sarah McKay, Cory Hall and the list goes on and on, they get to race now with those drivers they looked up to as they sat in the stands.

Roy has the a similar story from his childhood that ultimately hooked him in on the sport.

“When I was eight years old, I won a chance to ride in a car with my favorite driver. That night, the MASCAR Tour ’98 was in town and I got to ride with Shawn Tucker. MASCAR did the same thing with another kid, and he picked Scott Fraser. Here we were, in front of the biggest crowd of the year. Shawn and Scott did the lap, side by side, and I got to sit inside the car at Shawn’s home track. Coming off Turn Four the pace car pulled into the pits and the cars were instructed to follow him in. Scotty took off, and so did Shawn and we did (what seemed like) three or four more laps.

Do you think I’ll ever forget that?!

Last Saturday night, I raced door to door and held off a hard charging Dustin Tucker, Shawn’s son and the third generation of his family to drive race cars, in a car that would way out date the ’98 version. But it was the #52 car. I’ll never forget that time I got to go for a drive in the #52 car. ”

Stop and think before you say no…

Whether you come to the track after a bad day of work (a bad day at the track still beats a good day at work for most), or you do not feel obligated to participate in an autograph session, meet and greet or Kiddie Rides night your local short track pulls on, step back and think about what might not happen if you do not go out. Think about those sponsors that have invested in you that make your racing program tick. Consider those track sponsors that make racing happen at your track every Friday night, Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. More importantly, think about that kid sitting in the stands that you could inspire by a smile, an autograph, a chat or a chance for them to sit in your race car.

Brent Roy sums it up pretty nice.

“Support the fans, because THEY drive this sport – and not one other person(s) or team(s) are more important than little Johnny or little Suzie sitting in Section Five, Row 10, waving their checkered flag.”

I’m thrilled that the point above is not lost on some teams and from those fans – we thank you.

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Reigning Upper Clements Parks Maritime League of Legends Tour and Scotia Speedworld Strictly Hydraulics Legends champion Jarrett Butcher gives a sticker to a young fan during Fanfest 2016 at Scotia Speedworld. Could this fan become a future car or track sponsor, a crew member or a driver that could be swapping paint with Butcher in the future?! (Photo by McCarthy Photographic).

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