SEMA Member News -- March/April 2009
New Program Helps Create Motorsports Fans
|Jeff Behrent, vice president of Behrent’s Performance Warehouse, said that his wife and children took part in the Take a Friend to a Race program, and the result was several new and committed motorsports fans. A few young ladies not only got to attend their first dirt track race, but also met a few of the drivers they saw in action.|
It didn’t take long for the Take a Friend to a Race program to gather attention. Almost immediately after the initial press release in July 2008, inquiries began coming in from track operators, sanctioning bodies, manufacturers, magazines and Internet media. Along with a general awareness motive, the MPMC Select Committee envisioned that exponential growth in attendance at motorsports events could be gained “one fan at a time.” True to that vision, the following is a success story for the Take a Friend to a Race idea that was relayed personally to MPMC Chairman Bill Floyd by Jeff Behrent.
Behrent has been an avid motorsports fan all his life. He grew up at the dirt circle tracks where his father raced, and he even met his wife at the track. Today, Behrent is vice president of Behrent’s Performance Warehouse in Florida, New York. Behrent’s is a wholesale warehouse that has its roots in dirt circle racing, but today caters to almost all forms of motorsports. On nearly any summer weekend, Behrent can be found at Orange County Fair Speedway (www.ocfsmotorsports.com) in Middletown, New York, working on a friend’s Northeast Dirt Modified. His wife and three children also attend the races with him regularly. Orange County Fair Speedway is located about an hour and a half from New York City and features the various DIRTcar series action, including the Dirt Modifieds.
When the MPMC announced the motorsports awareness program in SEMA News last summer, the idea struck an immediate chord with Jeff. Who better to help increase awareness of the sport he loves than the participants and fans themselves? He discussed the idea with his wife, and together they decided to see if it could work. They asked their oldest daughter to invite three of her friends to accompany the family to the races on the weekend of Jeff’s birthday. In preparation, Jeff arranged to have drivers come to the grandstands during intermission to meet the girls and sign autographs. This personal visit from “the players” coupled with the racing action made the evening one of the neatest things the girls had seen in a long time. The very next week, one of the girls came back with her father. A few weeks after that, another of the girls brought her father. Now both dads are asking Jeff if they can accompany him into the pits sometime next year. Even more interesting is the fact that none of the families had any idea that an active dirt track facility existed just 20 minutes from their neighborhood!
Jeff’s experience is as perfectly scripted an example of how the idea works as we could ask for. Not only did he make the effort to invite some young people to an event, but he also used his connections to ensure a “personal experience” for the girls. Having drivers come to the stands to meet and greet the new fans immediately gave the first-time attendees a connection to the participants and made them feel that they were part of the action. Orange County Fair Speedway now has five new regularly attending fans. Five may not sound big, but if three more people can have similar results, suddenly there are 20 new fans at Orange County Fair Speedway. Still doesn’t sound like much?
According to Wikipedia, there are more than 1,900 dirt track ovals in the United States. If only one person at each track cultivates just two new fans, that means almost 4,000 new fans in the seats at dirt circle tracks alone! What about the paved ovals, road courses, go-kart tracks, off-road races, motorcycle tracks, hill climbs and dragstrips around the country? And the program is not limited to a fan inviting a fan. How many people reading this article could easily work with their local track or strip to arrange some sort of meet-and-greet session for first-time attendees?
Jeff Behrent’s experience points out that some type of personalized experience will have more of an effect on the first-time attendee than a monetary discount alone. Making the new attendee feel immediately connected by a greeting from a driver or a tour of the tower or a night with a team will make the experience move beyond the machinery. These promotions cost virtually nothing, give racing participants added exposure in front of the fans and provide a connection between the facility, the participants and the community. There is also a trickle-down effect as these new fans tune into motorsports on television or the Internet or buy print media. These added effects are difficult to quantify but are nonetheless real.
Behrent has given us proof that Take a Friend to a Race is a viable concept for promoting motorsports awareness. With Behrent’s and Orange County Fair Speedway’s experience as a template, imagine the impact we can all have on motorsports awareness by the time August rolls around as Official Motorsports Awareness Month! If you are a motorsports fan, Take a Friend to a Race, and watch our future grow.