Drag Racing Story of the Day!
© 2002, Doug Dornbos
Part One: Promotion on the Cheap
Way back last February when I booked the Mid-Michigan
Motorplex for Saturday, October 12 for my first
attempt ever at race promotion, I was a day late and a dollar short as the
2002 schedule was already at the printer's. So much for a strong start on
my career as a race promoter.
What follows is a narrow look only at the marketing I did for this race.
It doesn't attempt to tell the whole story of the event but it does look
at the specific things I did to try to get racers and spectators there. I
had VERY little $ to risk on this experiment and as a first time promoter
running a first time event with a brand new format, I had VERY little in
the way of benefits to offer a sponsor. Everything came out of my own
pocket with the exception that I was able to work a lot of it in with my
normal schedule covering the state of Michigan as a salesman for the Holland
Grill Company. Looking at your own family
checkbook before reading this article might help you understand better
where I was coming from.
My ticket prices were $39 to race, $12 adult spectator, $4 children 11
& under, children 6 and under free.
The groups I intended to target were:
1. Non-profit groups (primarily for spectators)
2. Auto shop programs at nearby high schools and colleges (for spectators
3. Hobbyist car clubs and individual racers (for racers + spectators)
1. Non Profit Groups
A. I offered a 50% discount for adults and free entry for children 11
& under to the Big
Brothers/Big Sisters program for Montcalm County
and all the surrounding counties. My time + energy investment was several
hours of trying to find out who the person in charge was, getting an
appointment to meet with her, typing up a letter for the other directors,
making an insert and coupon for their newsletter, making copies, stuffing
envelopes etc. My costs were less than $20 not including travel. The total
response was 1 vehicle containing 4 adults and 3 children. I'm glad they
came but it was more work than it was worth on my end.
B. I met with both the Gerald
Ford Council of the Boy Scouts of America and
the national headquarters for the Calvinist
Cadets (a boys program similar to Scouts but run
by a church denomination.) I offered them 25% off the regular spectator
prices plus a rebate to their club after the event of another 25%. The
possibility of setting up a Pinewood Derby track at the drag strip on race
day was discussed but found little favor with either club. I also made the
same discount offer to a couple of Young Marine groups by letter only (no
face-to-face meeting.) To all 3 boys groups, I discussed camping in the
field outside the track or at campgrounds nearby. By the time it was all
done, I had multiple hours but less than $30 (not including travel) into
this effort. The total response was zero Scouts, Cadets, or Young Marines.
I don't think I would spend my energy making this offer again.
C. Montcalm County Toys
for Tots was the main benefit of the day. I
offered them 25% of the spectator gate. They promoted the race by hanging
flyers around the county, had a booth at the race, and provided a Marine
to accept donations and stand at attention for the Star Spangle Banner. I
can't say enough about the efforts of Shirley Adams at Toys for Tots. By
October 12 we had nearly 300 8.5'x11' flyers spread across most every
restaurant, convenience store, auto parts store, and gas station in the
county as well as having the race mentioned both on the radio and in the
public events section of the local paper. A couple of local businesses
Gas in Edmore) even changed their outdoor signs
to promote the race. Very nice. I had personally about 2 days of effort
and over $100 into this whole project. We had 100+ paying spectators so we
were able to give Toys about $400 from the gate. They also received a few
cash and toy donations. Although it didn't seem altogether worthwhile time
and $-wise, I do believe in benefiting SOMEBODY in the community and
Shirley was great to work with so I consider this a good relationship and
one I would renew if they desired to see if we can grow it next year. One
of the cool things about Toys for Tots is that the $ stays local.
leakdown gage ($75 value) to the school who had
the most students spectating. I had a week of effort into this project
including 2 different mailings, one at the end of last school year and
then a publicity kit this fall. Included in the publicity kit were 6
"neon" 8.5" x 11" flyers along with a master copy for
making more, a letter to the auto shop instructor, a separate letter to
the dean or principal, a breakdown of the rules for the event, a flyer on
the Tavia leakdown gage, and the directions to the Motorplex from their
school printed out from Mapquest.
I personally visited 7 of the 8 colleges and also booked a spot at the Northwood
University annual outdoor car show the weekend
prior to the race. This is billed as the largest
outdoor new car show in the world, 55,000
attendees in 3 days. I was in the aftermarket area in the booth with the Roush
Mustang in front. I talked about the race for a
couple of days but felt I wasn't hitting the right market. I had hope that
Northwoods would promote my event to their students a little harder
because I bought into their show. Total $ cost on the entire 38 school
promotion was well over $400 including the Northwoods show expenses but
not including travel and lodging. The total result was that 11 students
spectated from 7 schools, 2 students raced, and 2 instructors raced
generating total revenue of about $200. If I were to promote to the
schools in the future, maybe it would be with one cheap mailing in the
fall and let it go at that.
2. Auto shop programs at nearby high schools and colleges
There's not much more exciting at the drag track than high school kids
racing. It gets them off the street, they're young so there's a potential
for a real long-term customer, they're enthusiastic, they're on the
front-end of the learning curve, etc. With that in mind, I took a state
map and locating every drag strip in the state, I drew a line from it to
the Mid-Michigan Motorplex. Then I found the halfway point on each line
and drew a "circle" connecting all of those. I used the internet
and other means to locate all the schools within or near the edges of that
circle and targeted only those 8 colleges and 30 high schools that had an
auto shop program. I offered them each a version of the same deal I
offered the Scouts: spectator tickets 25% off with student I.D. and a
rebate of another 25% to the auto shop program after the event whether or
not the spectating students came from their auto program or from their
general student population. It seems these days that all schools are
screaming for $ and some of these were very nearby and at least one has
9,000+ (college) student enrollment so I thought the possibility was there
that they could be enticed to promote this event. As an added incentive, I
Avenue, Traverse City, St.
Ignace, the Hillman Street Drags, or the 100th
Birthday Party for Rambler/AMC in Kenosha, WI. It would probably be more
productive to be IN these shows and have a sign out by my car advertising
the race rather than just walking through and putting flyers in windows
'73 wasn't showable this year and for sure no
one wants to see my severely rusting '92 Ford Aerostar! Before the St.
Ignace car show, I submitted my postcard to the State of Michigan for
display at the Welcome
Centers on both sides of the bridge. Not many
3. Car clubs and individual racers
A. Test-n-tune: The Motorplex was gracious enough to let me sporadically
come on test-n-tune nights and work at the track at which time I
advertised the race occasionally on the P.A. system and face to face with
racers. The Motorplex also passed out my propaganda on those nights as
well as on some race nights. I recognized a lot of the racers on race day
as coming from here so it was certainly the right crowd and worth my time.
Incidentally, it was Bill Pratt who I first heard make the recommendation
to volunteer as a way of becoming familiar with the process of working an
event. Good advice Bill.
B. Car shows: I attended numerous car shows this year and walked around
stuffing my flyer in the windows of hot rods. The shows that were far away
from the track did me little good: Coldwater,
Burn Center benefit car show at 5/3 Park in
Comstock Park was a good show for me. I know I attracted 3 racers from
there including Eric Bragg who won the "People's Choice" award
for coolest vehicle with his 5-window coupe, Tim Pearcy's GORGEOUS '55
Chevy, and the ONLY Plymouth on race day, Doug Vanden Brink's '71 Duster.
Also I got a weblink from the local
hearse enthusiasts club out of this show. They
actually discussed coming to race. Now THAT would've been variety!
I was all set to go to the Goodguy's
show in Berrien Springs but read in their info packet that they don't
allow people to pass out stuff so I didn't go. I tried to find someone who
was showing there so they could set out a stack of flyers for me but I
couldn't find anyone.
Car shows are fun and can hardly be called work but I doubt I will do this
many as a promotional effort again. The number of miles I traveled to and
from these events is staggering. BTW, why do those show guys put so many
"go fast" parts on their car and then act horrified when I
suggest they might drag race it once?
C. Direct mail: I direct mailed a flyer to 137 different car or motorcycle
clubs in Michigan. These included clubs who had as few as 4 and as many as
hundreds of members. There was only a small amount of club identification
at the race (most notably South Side Street Cars.) There was activity on
some of the club bulletin boards online, which could have come as a result
of this mailing. I was concerned about postage costs as I originally
thought I was going to do a LOT of mailing so I had a 2-sided post card
printed up which I could mail for 23¢ and not have to stuff envelopes. I
wouldn't do this again. It's pretty hard to give much detail on a postcard
and they're expensive compared to an 8.5" x 11" sheet.
D. Speed shops: I put a couple of stacks of flyers (postcards) in
several speed shops. Three of them did pretty well for me as I drew
several racers from their neck of the woods and have to believe that they
were the reason. I would concentrate a lot more on that next time.Header
Flames post at nitronic.com. I also got some
attention at the 1320 list and at dragraceresults.com.
I have a database that I've collected that includes about 700 e-mail
addresses of motor-heads around Michigan. I e-mailed them but only once.
I'm a promoter, but I hate spam myself so I drew the line after once.
Since I have no business name other than my website (runwhatyoubrung.com),
it pretty much speaks for itself how important I think the web is to me.
And to my friends who linked to me, one and all, THANK-YOU. I REALLY
E. Internet: I had 3000+ hits on my website prior to race day with over
half of them coming via links from other sites which were mostly turned on
to my race because Bill Pratt wrote and distributed a press release for me
(which also appeared in several print publications including National
Dragster.) I did go and post relentlessly to the newsgroups. I know there
is a huge spam problem over there and I tried to be sensitive to that but
it got very wearisome trying to write a special little piece for every
different automotive/motorcycle/snowmobile newsgroup. I did cross post a
few times just to get it done. I heard no complaints but also got no
racers specifically from there that I know of. The internet message boards
are a different story. For instance I know that the #69 junior fuel
dragster came my way via my
You undoubtedly noticed a lack of traditional media advertising in the
above discussion. Part of this is because it's REAL easy to get in over
your head when you're throwing $ down that hole. If I had multiple events
under my belt plus some $ in the fund, I would've gone that route. As it
was, I risked what I could and kept a lid on the rest. I did find a few
media buys that appeared to be a good value but I found them too late to
use them. Next time I will probably do some of that.
I know many of you have thought about putting a race together to try out
your own ideas. Hopefully you got a few things to think about in the above
paragraphs. I've taken numerous college classes over the past few years
for which I've spent similar amounts of $, time, and energy on as I have
this race, but I certainly learned more and had more fun doing this.
I'd like to try this again so if you have an idea, let me know.