News & Media


The evolution of race promotion

November 06, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

A carnival outside Turn 2 was part of how Texas Motor Speedway promoted its 'Wild Asphalt Circus' theme. (Getty Images)

Research, technology and costs have changed how tracks reach their fan bases

The idea behind race-track promoting hasn't changed since Bill France charged people to watch cars run fast along a Florida beach: Find the best way to get the most bodies in the grandstands to maximize profits.

What has changed? The research involved, the technology required and the associated costs. Texas Motor Speedway track president Eddie Gossage remembers a time when marketing a race was time-consuming and required a bit of heavy lifting.

"I don't know that there's any new ideas. There's just variations of old ideas."

--EDDIE GOSSAGE

"All that existed back when I came along was you wrote press releases, printed them, folded them and stuffed them into an envelope, and you put postage on it and took it to the post office because you didn't have a staff," Gossage said. "Then you'd lay out a brochure to send to a little mailing list. And that was the extent of it."

If race marketing can be likened to painting a portrait, promoters in the past used broad strokes in an attempt to reach the largest potential audience. Gossage said today's marketing is much more brand- and audience-specific.

Now it's about sending releases in an instant through an e-mail mailing list, or packaging sound bites on satellite feeds for broadcast. Taking it a step further, it's reaching out to potential fans through social media.

But the ability to reach more people more efficiently comes with a caveat, according to Gossage. Because the technology is changing so rapidly, getting the message to the audience is like trying to hit a moving target in the dark.

"In some ways, it's easier, and in some ways, it's much, much harder," Gossage said. "There was a time when I felt like I had my arms around things. But with social media and what-not, I don't even begin to believe that.

"They tell me to tweet and tell me to be on Facebook and tell me to be on Instagram. And I do, but every once in a while, they'll come in and say, 'You're not doing enough.' So I try to keep the PR folks out of my office by doing as much as I can."

And yet, some of the most low-tech ways of marketing are still the most effective. You can spend thousands of dollars on television commercials and fancy billboards, Gossage said, but a simple poster stapled to a telephone pole might work just as well as it did six decades ago.

"A poster on a telephone post worked in 1950 still works in 2012," Gossage said. "You still stop at a red light or a stop sign, and there's a telephone post with a poster on it. Barber shop, convenience store, whatever. It still works. But you also have to have a satellite feed over here now."

Clay Earles promoted his new Martinsville Speedway in 1948 by driving around town with the race date and track phone number painted on the side of his car. That's still an effective marketing tool today, according to Gossage, although the branding is decidedly more high-tech.

"We have 12 pace cars, and that's what they do," Gossage said. "Now, they're a whole lot fancier-looking because of what you can do with vinyl wraps on a car today than you could have done in 1948, or even what I could do in the early '80s. I remember not being able to get a pace-car deal at Bristol. Nobody would do business with us. We weren't big enough. Today, it's a whole different world."

So how do you reach today's audience? Are there really any "new" ways of marketing, or are promoters just dusting off old ideas and giving them a fresh, new twist?

For example, Gossage used a "Wild Asphalt Circus" theme this fall at Texas Motor Speedway, based on his experiences growing up.

"For instance, the carnival we have outside Turn 2 was influenced by my days as a kid, going to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to see the races at Nashville Speedway," Gossage said. "You had carnival rides and stuff. That was just hand-in-hand.

"That carnival out there, it's not anything new. It's just that nobody's done one at a race in a long, long time. I don't know that there's any new ideas. There's just variations of old ideas. Fortunately, I can place some old things that either I did or that others did, and it seems like I'm coming up with new ideas today because I got into this sport when I was 20 years old."

That's where perhaps the biggest change in race promotion has occurred. When the sport began to reach a larger, more national audience through exposure on cable television, suddenly more people began to pay attention -- and the costs began to rise exponentially.

That wasn't the case when Gossage started out at Nashville with Ed Clark, now president of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"He was the general manager and I was the PR director," Gossage said. "And we promoted the last sub-$100,000 purse. I think the total purse was $96,000. That carnival costs more than $96,000. I can remember paying as little as $800 for the spectator liability insurance when I was running Bristol. And now it's seven figures for one weekend's worth of insurance."

There's a level of sophistication in marketing that didn't exist when race promoters were hand-stamping envelopes, and yet some of the ideas that were successful then still are used today.

When he looks back at how the sport has changed, Gossage can barely believe it.

"You can't compare," Gossage said. "It's like being old enough to have heard about the flight at Kitty Hawk and then getting on the Concorde and flying to England later in your life."