Anyone who operates their own business is well aware of the "profit and loss" term. When I took bookkeeping in school (and by the way, did you know bookkeeping is the only word in the English Language with three consecutive double letters?) we simply referred to it as P&L. I'm sure Jeff is sitting there now, with all his business ventures, wondering why I chose this title for a Legendtorial the day before the deadline for tax filings. Actually, it is a continuation of the Legendtorial of last week, which, although not so intended when written, was more along the line of a fan and why I did, or didn't enjoy going to a local short track. You can go back and read that Legendtorial on the Home Page for the site if you missed it.
Last week we had hoped to have Randy Myers on with us to talk about his promotion of the short track known as ACE Speedway. We were unable to get in touch with Randy last week during the show. Randy was on the phone with me first thing Wednesday morning to apologize for missing the show and to explain that it was due to an issue involved with his promotion of the Ace Speedway. As I hung up the phone with Randy, I thought back over my years involved with promoters of a couple of Speedways after I quit driving. Although I was never a promoter, I worked with the last two promoters of The Historic Columbia Speedway and I worked for the owner and promoter of The New Columbia Speedway as the track announcer for two seasons in the mid nineties. In fact, thinking back over the years, I have done pretty much everything around the race track except clean the restrooms.
I worked with Dan Scott, NASCAR Official, the year after I quit driving. I helped with drivers' meetings, inspections, and flagging. I drove the Pace Car in two major Late Model Sportsman 200 lappers at Columbia Speedway. The first one was the time I learned drivers have specific instructions for Pace Car Drivers. Prior to the race, one NASCAR Hall of Famer came up to me and told me to circle the half mile track at 35 mph. He had a slow pit crew. Another Hall of Famer asked me to pace the field at 50 mph. He had a fast crew. Various other drivers would approach me and offer their suggestions. Dan told me to pace it at 30 mph, which is exactly what I did.
I worked in the concession stand a few times, but after the condensed onions disaster I was not allowed back behind the counter. I worked driver and crew sign-in many times, which was about the easiest job in the place unless several teams showed up at the same time and then it got hectic.
I worked behind the ticket window more than once and discovered that 99.9% of race fans are really courteous and friendly. But then there is that point one percent that makes you want to come through the ticket window and teach them some manners.
In the next to last season of the Historic Columbia Speedway operation, radio station WCOS-FM, the local country station with 100,000 watts, decided to broadcast the Thursday night races live. They enclosed the broadcast booth and equipped it with the necessary electronics and every Thursday night Leo Windham and I would describe the action to fans all around the state. It was great fun and we established quite a base of listeners who would always call into the station. I really enjoyed that.
In the mid 1990s, a new radio station started up in Lexington, South Carolina which was an all sports format with local shows in the morning and then national sports shows throughout the rest of the day. I was given a 30 minute time slot every Friday morning from 9 to 9:30 a.m. for "Track Talk". That turned out to be a very popular show with a large following of race fans. Through that show, I was asked to be the track announcer at The New Columbia Speedway.
As track announcer, I was able to build up a tremendous interaction with the fans and establish some great friendships with the competitors. That was one of the most enjoyable adventures racing presented to me at the time. When I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies at the end of season banquet, I was honored. As I walked into the banquet hall that night, I was overwhelmed by the crowd of folks there all dressed out in coats and ties and most of the women in dresses. Almost didn't recognize some of the competitors, but I have never forgotten that evening.
I've related all of my experiences in the foregoing just to reinforce the fact that I've been around racing many, many years. And there is very little in the sport I haven't done. There are plenty of folks I admire in the sport, for one reason or another, and I have to admit that being a part of Racers Reunion has opened more doors for more opportunities than I've had before. But, tonight, I want to talk about my first hand observations of the track promoters for whom I worked.
The next to last promoter of the Historic Columbia Speedway, in an era after the Grand National events didn't run there, worked almost 7 days a week, long hours, with promotion of the track. He owned a small car dealership, which allowed him the time. He had a couple of really good assistants which helped him. I was also involved in much of the activity on race day. I would usually get off work a couple hours early to be at the track by 4:00 p.m. What job I was assigned depended upon what needed to be done. I picked up trash that had accumulated over the week, in the infield and grandstands. I would check in the vendors at the concession stands. I would set up the ticket windows, just whatever needed to be done. Every week it was well after midnight before I would leave the track as I helped with driver payouts and verification of the results for sending to NASCAR as this was a NASCAR venue. This promoter worked himself almost to death through his love for the sport, and I was involved enough to know he was hitting his own bank account several times to pay the purse when the crowd was down or the concessions didn't sell much. Finally, at the end of his second season promoting, he gave it up.
Almost immediately, another individual stepped up to take over promotion. He contacted me about continuing to work with the Speedway and I, of course, said I would help out. The guy taking over the speedway was a good guy, but what he knew about promoting a race track was equal to about how much I know about rocket science, which is NOTHING. The first couple of races of that season were not record breaking attendance, but the fans did come out. The third race of the season was a 200 lapper for the Late Models. The weather had threatened all day but at race time it was good to go. Some big names were there and a full field was prepared to race, but it was easy to see the crowd in the stands did not equal the purse posted for the event.
The green flag waved and I was in the press box that night. The competition was incredible, as expected. I glanced at the manually operated scoreboard and it was showing 55 laps. I was thinking to myself that these guys were really clicking off the laps as I couldn't imagine 55 laps going by that quickly. I looked back at the scoreboard only seconds later to note it showing 60 laps. I kept my eyes on the board and saw what was happening. The guy on the board had been instructed to skip every other lap for reasons I still don't know, but the guy admitted he had been told to do that. Finally, some of the fans caught what was going on and it was then obvious there was going to be a brawl if something didn't happen. The short story here is that the promoter agreed that everyone hold on to their stubs and they would be admitted with that stub next week.
For the next couple of weeks, races were "called" by midday on Thursday because it was raining in Texas (being funny here), but it was true. Finally, there was no rain anywhere on the planet and the races were set to run. A really good field for both Late Model Sportsman and Limited Sportsman showed up, but the amazing thing was, even with the "free admission" for fans of the previous week, the stands were almost empty. The promoter talked to the drivers and most agreed to run for a reduced purse since they were there, but some loaded up and left. The following week, I showed up at 4:00 and all the gates were locked. Fans and competitors started to arrive but no one was there to open the gates. That, in effect, was the end of stock car racing at Columbia Speedway.
The New Columbia Speedway was opened a few miles down the road from the Historic Columbia Speedway and it was operated by a young lady very dedicated to stock car racing. I worked for her two years and saw, first hand, the total dedication she had for the speedway. She gave it her all. A couple of years after I no longer announced at the track, stock car racing stopped. I understand lawn mower racing went on for a bit, but the roar of the stock car engine was only a memory.
I really don't have an answer as to what it takes to be a successful track promoter. I have watched three different people, first hand, take it on. I have seen the tremendous effort it takes to put on a weekly show. I know we, the fans, are quick to voice our opinion about too many divisions, poor facilities, bad food in concessions, ticket prices, well, you name it. I have respect for anyone trying to promote a weekly show. Even though what I have seen is surely only a small part of the overall picture, it is a job I could not imagine tackling. It is mind boggling to me all the different talents required for success in that endeavor.
Profit and/or Loss. That's what it is all about as a promoter. I'm wishing all the local track promoters the "profit" and thank you for your efforts.