In late March, scores of enthusiastic racers took to the grounds of Rockford Speedway in Loves Park, Illinois, for an early-season test of speed and endurance. Some had prepared all winter for the event; and some brought family and friends to lend support.
But this particular race was like no other in the 70-year history of the high-banked quarter-mile oval known as “Mid-America’s Finest Racetrack.” For one, prizes were awarded not to the top finishers, but for those with fun and/or creative costumes. Nor was the race subject to rain-out—the show would go on, weather be damned!
In fact, the rules were quite simple: Competitors in the Shamrock Beer Run 5K would drink 3 oz. of beer at the start of the race, and be able to re-fuel at five different brewery pit stops along the way—plus a pint at the finish, for a total of 31 oz. Requirements included preregistration and, naturally, a valid ID on race day (no kids allowed).
Not your typical short-track contest, to be sure. So what would compel speedway officials to host such an event?
“We have an incredible history here, and I know that in previous years the speedway had always sold itself,” explained Rockford’s events coordinator Sam Conness. “But recently our General Manager David Deery has been looking to reach out to the community in different ways, to bring in more of the younger crowd, and just explore new ways to get more people to come to the facility. Something like [the Beer Run] is a great event for a smaller venue like ours. Hopefully people will see and appreciate the history and tradition that is all around our place and decide it’s something they want to come back to and experience again.”
Indeed, Rockford’s foray into the world of ale-powered distance running represents a strategic effort by some of today’s savvier race track operators to generate additional revenue while opening their gates to a broader audience. It’s also the subject of an in-depth and well-researched feature article in this month’s issue of PRI Magazine penned by contributing editor Bill Sessa.
For the piece titled “Crowd Control: Utilizing Creative Fan Attraction Strategies,” Sessa spoke with officials from Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, Missouri; Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio; Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington; and others to learn more about the events that take place before, during and after their features and A-mains. Depending on the venue and time of year, those could include anything from concerts and music festivals to rodeos, fitness challenges and holiday light displays.
Promoters are getting clever on race day, too, as evidenced by the growing number of attractions—kid-friendly and otherwise—appearing at ovals, drag strips and road courses across the country. Rather than give away the steak, however, I invite you to read Bill’s article, as you may just come across an idea or two that could help heighten interest and jump-start attendance at your own local speedway!