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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

RunWhatYouBrung Exposed
Part One: Promotion on the Cheap

2002, Doug Dornbos

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 + racers)
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 (including Alto 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.

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 offered a
Tavia 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.

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,
Woodward 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 but the '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 were taken.

Spectrum 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.

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
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 appreciate it!

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.

Doug Dornbos


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