Motorsport Racetrack Owner The Buzz


Motorsport racing is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in North America. Jim Rogers is the manager of the Southern Oregon Speedway. He agrees wholeheartedly. "It's a growing industry," he says. "It's growing in all aspects."

Motorsport racing encompasses a huge variety of auto racing events. Autocross, drag, kart, stock and sprint are a few you probably recognize -- but they're only the tip of the iceberg.

Owen Kearns is the manager of communications for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He says the motorsport industry started to boom just over a decade ago. "Back in [the '60s], there were only a handful of teams that actually had full-time employees. Most people worked part time. They'd get paid a few bucks and had their pit passes purchased for them," he says.

Not so in the early 21st century. Today, the four main sanctioning bodies in the industry are household names. Most people automatically think of fast cars on slick tracks when they hear of NASCAR, CART, the Indy Racing League (IRL) or the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).

Most of the tracks and races shown on TV are corporately run and corporately owned. Privately owned tracks, says Rogers, are "on the bottom of the food chain."

However, aspiring racers have to start somewhere -- and it's not going to be at the Indy.

Lynda Chiovitti realized that. She and her husband own and operate a track for beginner racers.

At first, they weren't sure whether or not to purchase an existing track. "We were looking at different property, looking at how much it would cost to [build one], ground up." Chiovitti says they were lucky to finally find a track for sale after six months of searching.

In 1979, the cost of the Chiovittis' track was $250,000. Since then, it's required expensive enhancements and lots of hard work. "It's grown in our hands," says Chiovitti. "We increased the length of the track [to] just under a mile." They also put in an arcade to keep guests entertained during slow times on the track.

When people come out to watch an event, explains Kearns, they come for more than just the race. A successful track, he says, has to take care of its audience.

"You can no longer get people to come out and spend $8 to $10 to bring their family to a place that doesn't have hot and cold running water. [It must be] clean, safe, well lit, [with] good priced concessions and a quick-paced show," he says.

"The most successful short tracks that I've been to are...always bringing in something different -- some guy jumping a motorcycle over 20 cars or a guy blowing himself up with dynamite -- the novelty acts."

Chiovitti admits that owning and operating a track isn't easy. In the motorsport industry, she says, your business is only as viable as you make it. "Every dime we make, we put back into the company."

And the financial return doesn't measure up compared to the number of hours Chiovitti works. "No way. I get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and [close up] at 11 p.m. I'm the last one to go to bed."

So where's the glory in owning a motorsport track? Chiovitti says the greatest rewards come in the form of stature and prestige in the industry. "We have quite a name and reputation," she says.

"You have to be diligent," says Chiovitti. "You have to apply yourself and, if it's worth doing, you have to do it 150 percent."

"You've got a lot of challenges out there in the marketplace," says Kearns. "You're after people's leisure time dollars and they only have so many dollars to spend. "

But in the end, says Rogers, the motorsport industry is very enjoyable. "It's hard work and it's seven days a week. And it's fun!"

To get started, you have to decide whether to purchase an existing track or buy an empty lot and start from scratch.

Starting from scratch, says Chiovitti, is more difficult. Besides having to design the track, lay down the pavement and construct each building, you'll have to get a zoning permit from the city. And that's a difficult task.

According to Rogers, it's tough to get a zoning permit for a racetrack because "you can only build racetracks in certain places. Environmentally, they're very difficult to install."

The noise pollution is the main problem -- would you want to listen to the roaring engines of your racetrack neighbors all day long?

Chiovitti recommends buying an existing track with a prime location. Her track, for example, is across the street from a park. "It has automatic traffic," she says. "It has to be close to something that automatically feeds it."

Once you've found a location, you've got to find the cash. Remember that the Chiovittis paid $250,000 for an existing track in 1979. The cost today will be much greater and the money will be more difficult to get. Today's banks are wise to the ways of the track -- they know that many of them go under.

If you look at a history of the speedway, says Kearns, "you can see all of the tracks that have popped up like mushrooms over the years and have gone away just as quickly."

But once you've got capital, a location and regular patrons, you're set. Put together a strong management team and prepare to work up to seven days a week. Make the most of your track by keeping guest facilities in top shape and bringing in an exciting variety of shows.

Now, start your entrepreneurial engines and you'll be off to the races!

Links

Glen Helen Raceway Park
Check out the event calendar for this park in California

North American Motorsports Pages
A list of tracks across the continent

Motorsport.com
News, magazines and schedules