The Problem at Black Rock
It seems that when writers refer to the 2004 racing season at Black Rock they refer it as the failed attempt to run sprint cars weekly. That's an unfair summary of the situation and here is my view of what was right and wrong with the effort.
NYS is modified country. DIRT (before Boundless Motorsports buyout) was headquartered about dead center in the state and built the modified division through 30+ years of continuous promotion, common rules at 20+ tracks and a major race at the historic mile at Syracuse and established Stars. People know the 'Names', the numbers, the colors, reputations, history and relative strength of the modified racers from years of repetition.
Sprint Cars in NYS have been a touring series since the early 80's. When I started in the 70's, I was the only one I knew of, from NYS that was racing sprints and had to tow to PA to do it. When ESS was created, a number of modified racers and new racers filled the fields of the touring series. URC also had always made an annual sweep of NYS on their schedule. Tracks add a sprint race or two to their schedule as an added attraction and it brings more fans to the track that night and at a higher ticket price. Sprints are good racing entertainment, quick handling and fast.
So here was Black Rock; a nice 4/10 mile banked oval in a small town in south central NYS. A facility that was continuously upgraded with nice buildings, clean restrooms, clean concessions, good food, and great lighting. They were running small block DIRT modifieds on Friday nite with a few sprint shows added to the schedule and at the end of the year had established a tradition of the Bully Hill Nationals 360 sprint race. The weekly attendance was not growing.
The competition. The decision was made to go to Saturday nite, apparently thinking that the problem was racing on Friday nite. Two tracks are within an hour of BR that run Saturday nights also. One is Woodhull, with Dirt small blocks (many of the same BR cars) and Canandaigua (a DIRT company leased and promoted track). Canandaigua has a dedicated following of top DIRT drivers and fans and is 40 minutes up the road. BR felt that Sprint Cars would be the key to fill the stands and the pits as an alternate to the modifieds. People love sprints and should flock to the track. The Patriot Sprint Group was given the opportunity (coerced that is) to race at the track weekly.
The weather in early 2004 was no help. There were only one or two race nites that did not have a week long prediction of rain by the forecasters or threaten rain right up to race time or in the morning and up to race time. If it wasn't a rain out, every week looked like it was going to be.
The car counts were great. There was always a full field with 25 to 35 or 40 cars. The cars were good cars, good drivers, great announcers and they put on a really good show every night. The show ran off smoothly with no big delays, cars were pushed off quickly. The additional three support classes were the same ones that had been there in the past. Ticket prices were very reasonable, lower than other tracks, with a family priced package. Pit passes were $15, a welcome reasonable price for the sprint racers. Food was good and not over priced. The show was usually over before 11pm. The track was seldom dusty but the surface was difficult to get a hold of and most racers didn't like that part of the place.
So what happened? It was a good show and good facility - I think there were four main factors that led to disappointing attendance:
-Can't do anything about it but like the draw, bad weather luck can kill a season.
There was little if any promotion off the property.
-The sprints were supposed to bring in the people but no one knew they were there. In the racing papers that cover NYS, I never saw an action photo from the place. A winner's photo doesn't show the excitement of the race. The stories that were published were buried and small. The Patriot Group's announcer Rich Vleck worked hard to get the stories out and had a weekly column in one paper but BR did little.
-The BR web site was a "cobweb site". The gallery didn't have any pictures except for a few from a mall show. The only info was last week's finish results. There was no current pre-race weather updates. The site was dead.
-The sports pages of the Syracuse Newspapers have a local racing column and a weekly list of racetracks and times but never mentioned BR, although the surrounding tracks were listed.
My feeling is that the sprints could draw fans from a
distance and that promotion needed to be done from Buffalo to Syracuse and Binghamton to
Johnstown and into northern PA. I think that people would have traveled to see a
good sprint race, just like they do to go to Oswego. There needed to be a big build
up with stories and pictures. With lots of hype, there would have been anticipation
of something special and fan desire to attend. When I talked to my race fan friends,
they didn't know anything about what was going on at BR.
However, even with promotion, sprints at BR was something that would take time to build.
- With sprints in NYS being a touring series, the fans only see them once or maybe twice a season. There are no stars, in the fan's eye. The attraction is the speed of the cars, there is no strong, emotional, involvement in who wins and who does well. This is something that takes time to build with a returning crowd at a home track. BR had nothing to start with and not enough promotion or attendance build on.
4- Location / Race night.
- BR is located in Dundee, NY, in the farm and wine county part of the state. It is only 20 minutes from Watkins Glen but far from most cities. Although many tracks thrive in rural areas, this track is located between two of the Finger Lakes of NYS. These lakes are narrow bodies that run north and south for 50 miles and slice the countryside into long narrow strips of farms and county. It's a beautiful area but to get to Dundee from most anywhere, you have to go around the end of one of the lakes. You might be five miles away on the other side of one of the lakes but there is no shortcut to BR and not enough local population between the lakes to draw from. This coupled with two other tracks running an established program of known cars and stars nearby on Saturday, put this track in a vacuum. Maybe the reason that the Friday nite small block modifieds didn't work well either wasn't because racing was on the wrong nite. Maybe it's just the location.
BR is one of the best physical facilities for racing in the state but they didn't have their heart in it. They went to sprints expecting that sprints alone would fix their problems. But they never made a big deal about it and to be fair, the owner of the Patriots planned a touring series and did not like the weekly track situation. Although the Patriots and BR got along on the face of it, there was no mention at the banquet of the Patriots or all the work that the Patriot volunteers did to make the BR races run smoothly. Neither group acted like they wanted it to succeed.
Just because the sprints didn't work out at BR doesn't mean that they can't be a home run at another track. There are lots of sprint and open wheel fans in NYS and it shows when the stands are packed when the tour is in town. If someone can commit to the promotional effort necessary, at the right facility, I think that sprints can be the main attraction. It may take a few years to establish the Names and Stars of the division with the fans and it may have to be done with an existing weekly draw like the big block modifieds. Both Lernerville and Sharon have run the modified and sprints in their weekly shows for years to great success. There are lots of quality sprint teams in NYS (I'm guessing about 75 or more teams). There's no reason that sprints can't be added on a weekly basis to a track that is looking to grow to the next level.
I would be interested in hearing from you with your thoughts at email@example.com.