Craig Murto: Racing business optimistic in 2017


Every racing season wraps up with the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis, the largest racing trade show in the world.

If the most recent show was any indication, 2017 will be good for business and better things are going to come. Who best to judge the health of racing than the people who sell parts to racers or the people who report on local tracks?

“I think if this show’s any indication, things are positive,” said Randy Cotteleer of TBM Brakes. “We have a record attendance here, and in the past 60 days things have picked up dramatically, not only for our racing business, but for our OEM business. I would expect that we’re going to see 15-20 percent growth. I’m excited, I’m optimistic about 2017.”

Recent years were plagued by a sour economy and small car counts at local tracks. Even the tradeshow attendance was down. But there’s renewed – if cautious – optimism in 2017.

Corey Schultz of Five Star Racecar Bodies said he’s optimistic for the short term, but cautious regarding long-term prospects, especially in short track racing.

“I think the middle-class blue-collar racers who do it as a hobby on the weekends are getting run out of the Super Late Model level,” Schultz observed. “It’s become a much higher level of competition, which brings in higher costs. That could hurt long term.”

Commonsense rules that save local racers money, as well as good enforcement of those rules, will go a long way toward securing the future, Schultz noted. But for 2017 he sees growth because “the economy is getting better and people are spending money.”

But are they spending money in our region? The past decade dirt racing has seen healthy growth, but results may be mixed so far in 2017.

Brett Rose, who handles public relations at Hagerstown Speedway, observed, “Right now from my observation, we’re about the same as last year with fans and car counts. Nothing terrible, but they could be a little better. We really need about 300 more fans on a weekly basis for regular shows, and we’re working on some things to bring people back to the races.

“We’re also working on bringing a larger emphasis on tech, especially in the support divisions to reel in some things that have been let slide over the last few seasons,” Rose continued. “I think the racers actually appreciate that.”

The stands and pits may not be full yet at Hagerstown, but that could change.

“As far as the on-track product, the racing has been fantastic at Hagerstown,”  Rose said. “It’s been a while since it’s been this good. Each Super Late Model feature winner has started no better than sixth, and our support divisions have been putting on good shows for the fans too. Overall I’d say we’ve had a decent start to 2017.”

Glenn Luckett works with Championship Racing Association, which sanctions and co-sanctions pavement Late Model racing in the Midwest and Deep South. He stated that so far the 2017 season is “surprisingly very good. We’ve had good car counts, especially in our Street Stocks and Super Late Model races. We have our first JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour April 30 and will have a good car count for that one. Hopefully that trend will continue through the rest of the season.”

Ernie Saxton is a journalist who also helps secure sponsorship for race teams. Based in the Eastern Pennsylvania area, he has his finger on the pulse of his local racing scene.

“In my area of the country the weather has been a big factor,” Saxton said of the 2017 season. “Some local tracks have already lost four or more events to weather. That is a big impact.

“In the good news it seems that NASCAR, the Cup division, is doing such a poor job of entertaining fans that more fans are returning to the weekly short tracks,” continued Saxton. “However, the short tracks have to do a better job of promotion – advertising on radio, TV, newspapers and social media — shorten the events, give the fans an entertaining night at the track, and work on attracting young people.”

There are many things that can affect the racing industry. But overall, though some have seen mixed results, the industry is optimistic for the season ahead.

Jeff Heotzler, with ATL Racing Fuel Cells, summed it up nicely when he said,
“I think everyone’s starting to get excited again, and I think better things are going to come.”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.