Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, is recognized as one of the premier drag racing facilities in the country. It’s been in operation since 1963, and since 1974 has been owned and operated by the Bader family. Bill Bader III is the owner and president of Summit Motorsports Park, and its continued growth and success going into 50 years of operation is a testament to his ability to adapt to changes and trends in the marketplace. Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Bader, conducted by Chris Vopat of the Emerging Trends & Technology Network (ETTN) Select Committee at SEMA, PRI's parent company.
Part 1: Advanced Marketing
Looking at how a successful facility like Summit Motorsports Park markets to spectators and racing participants, it is interesting to see how changes in technology and other factors have caused them to change their strategy to ensure continued growth. Bader explains that 10 years ago, the track focused on a 60-mile area of dominant influence. This radius included Cleveland and Toledo as their major market cities. The typical program to market an upcoming event was to send brochures to the track’s mailing list, and to advertise on the leading rock stations a week ahead of the event.
While that strategy worked well, changing technology has presented new opportunities to market to potential event spectators and participants. Also, learning more about the people who attend events at Summit Motorsports Park helps to focus their marketing. Bader explained that capturing information from participant surveys is key to learning about their audience, and how to reach them. Participants are asked to complete surveys at track events, and after events in an online survey. The information gained from surveys has shown that in recent years, the spectator audience has become more educated and more affluent.
Such a sophisticated audience can be reached through online marketing, and Bader takes full advantage to promote events at Summit Motorsports Park. The track frequently sends out e-newsletters, and has built its social media audience substantially. These resources show exciting photos and videos from track events, which draw people to the facility’s website, www.summitmotorsportspark.com. On the website, people can learn more about upcoming events, and purchase tickets for individual events, or purchase tickets for multiple events at a discount.
By producing quality events, they have been able to grow their social media following, their website traffic, and the overall number of people they can touch with their marketing efforts.
Part 2: Racer Participation
Bader explained that in addition to their spectator audience, they have also seen a shift in their racing participant market over the years. Racers once participated in drag racing events very frequently, and were able to race on a tight budget, often pulling their race car to the track on an open trailer. As the spectator audience has become more affluent and more sophisticated, the racer base has as well. This means that while they may have more income, they also have more racing expenses, such as more elaborate tow rigs and fuel costs. The cost of building and campaigning a race car has also increased, and racers also have more commitments to their work and family.
As such, Bader explained that while there still are several racers who can compete at an event at Summit Motorsports Park (up to 8000 racers compete at the facility at least once per year), it becomes more of a challenge for the racers to participate in the sport. Along with the strategy the track uses to reach spectators, social media, e-newsletters and website marketing also work to inform and attract racing participants.
An important factor that Bader pointed out in the effort to keep racers participating is the changing landscape of how events themselves are produced. While several drag race sanctioning bodies host events at Summit Motorsports Park each year, economic forces have caused many of these racing organizations to leave the marketplace in recent years. Racers who are dedicated to a series follow its events from track to track, so the reduction in the number of racing organizations has had an impact on the number of events that Summit Motorsports Park hosts each year.
To bolster their event schedule and keep racers participating and spectators coming through the turnstiles, Summit Motorsports Park now produces 15 stand-alone events throughout the year, in addition to weekly test-and-tune sessions. Bader explained that while producing an event on the scale of a national sanctioning body represents a risk, it also produces more reward, as his facility is in full control of the event and how it is produced.