By Aaron Waldron
Last week, I wrote about five things any racer could do to benefit the racing scene in his local area (click here to read it). Small gestures like paying attention to the race announcer and being ready for the next heat add up when performed by dozens - leading to an overall more pleasant experience that will invite and retain more drivers of all experience levels. More than what individual racers might accomplish, though, can be done by a track that puts the needs and wants of its racers ahead of all else - while also investing in the sustainability and future growth of the hobby. Here are five things any track can do to benefit the local racing scene:
1. Build a good track
You could have the most dialed facility in the world, with a lavish pit area (and even real bathrooms!), and it won’t matter if the track sucks.
Less is always more when designing a layout. If the course feels very slightly boring when you’re driving on it by yourself for the first couple of packs or tanks, it’ll probably yield close qualifying times and some great side-by-side racing. And as an added benefit, less-experienced racers will have an easier time navigating their way around without getting frustrated. If you want to build a crazy tough layout every once in a while, with the agreement of your racers, go ahead - but the default should always be to err on the side of simple.
Also, these five obstacles should never happen:
- Blind spots
- Car-breaking corner barriers or jumps
- Front straightaways
- Crossover jumps
I wrote a column about these track-building mistakes two years ago. You can read it here:
2. Be prepared
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? Well, in this case, an ounce of anticipating what racers might complain about is worth a pound of them actually complaining. Keep a running list of what goes well and what doesn’t, and use each club race as a chance to get better. As much fun as the RC hobby may be, approaching the operation of a track facility like a business will ensure its survival.
First and foremost, make sure the facility is clean and the track is in good shape. There shouldn’t be any broken or displaced track barriers that could snag and destroy a suspension arm, and racers will notice if holes have been patched since last week - even if you didn’t get a chance to fill every single one. Don’t underestimate what the application of couple cans of paint, adequate trash cans, and a few hours of general care can do for a racer’s first impression.
If your track has a hobby store, make sure it’s stocked with the items racers will need - in addition to what a first-timer might purchase. Create a program that incentivizes your racers to shop with you, and that encourages your shoppers to race with you. A free entry with a kit purchase? Ten race entries gets you half-off a set of tires? Look at your financial situation and be creative.
No matter if it’s a Wednesday club race or the biggest event your track has ever hosted, get organized before the first racer shows up. Here are a list of items to consider:
- What kind of turnout will we get, and can we complete the race in a timely manner?
- Does the PA system work? Does the race director understand how to run the scoring program? Did he have a bad day and will he use the microphone to insult our customers?
- What rules are we actually going to follow and enforce?
- Is the track in racing condition, and do we have a plan to keep it that way?
- Do we have the adequate staff to run this event?
And by “adequate staff to run this event,” I mean that, at no point, should an announcer ever be begging (or guilt-tripping) fee-paying racers into maintaining a track or volunteering to turn marshal. If you need to give discounted or free race entries to a select handful of drivers to make sure the track is fairly swept or watered, and to have back-ups ready in case someone can’t or forgot to turn marshal, then do it. Don't rely on the kindness and courtesy of those who chose to be there without giving something in return.
3. Reach out to the community
No matter if you’re a business or a club, you should be actively finding reasons to be in the public eye - not just trying to attract existing RC racers. Whether that means building a temporary track in a mall parking lot or a state fair and letting kids try out a handful of short course trucks, or attaching a charity drive to your next trophy race and contacting local media, the future of any track (and the hobby in general) depends solely on having a consistently full drivers’ stand.
An RC friend of mine named Nick Colander posted a message to his Instagram account yesterday (see it here) saying "If you have more 40+ heats than Novice heats at your next trophy race, you can stop wondering why RC car racing is dying." And he's right.
This also means connecting with other RC businesses in the area. If there’s a hobby shop nearby, work out a mutually-beneficial agreement - even if your track has its own store. If there’s another nearby track, coordinate race dates and support each other while also competing in good faith, not with gossip and shady tactics. Get more people in the door and then impress them with how well your track handles its business.
4. Leverage technological tools
Business owners (and club operators) have never had as much access to affordable - and even free - advertising. Take advantage of it! Build and maintain a website - you can get started for $18 per month (less than two race entries) on Square Space. Come up with a social media content plan and stick to it. Monitor your Facebook and Yelp reviews, and respond to both complaints and praise courteously and professionally. Invest in the equipment to broadcast your races on our site. There are literally hundreds of tracks utilizing these tools and strategies, so you have no excuse.
5. Create a comfortable culture
Last week, I included a bonus tip for drivers - that they should reflect on their own behavior and decide when it’s time to take a break from racing. As a race director, you shouldn’t be waiting for them to have an “a-ha!” moment. This isn’t a bonus tip, but something that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. You know who I’m referring to: the guy who seems to get into arguments with someone new every week, yells at the turn marshals, launches his car off the track, screams in your face, and then drags your track’s reputation through the mud on social media. No decent restaurant, retail store or other customer-centric business would let an irate customer ruin the experience for the rest of its patrons, so why should an RC track? Turn away his $10 per week and save yourself hundreds - in both the business you’ll retain, as well as the headache pills you’ll no longer need. Got a problem customer? Give him a warning (with a week off), and on the occasion of the repeated offense ask him not to return. Stick to it. You’ll be surprised at the support you’ll receive from the rest of your clientele.
At the same time, track operators need to have the same ability to reflect on one's own behavior. You get what you give, right? While racers are certainly responsible for their own behavior, the track is in charge of monitoring the culture of the environment. Even the most irrational complainers get their gripes from somewhere. After your next screaming match with the guy who threatened to kill a turn marshal, take the time to cool off, figure out what you can do to fix the situation next time (like removing the dangerous track obstacle, or resolving not to have slow turn marshals in the hardest section of the track), and move on.