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Colorado National Speedway has quietly become the American short track industry leader in embracing new technology and exploiting it to perfection.
The stars of the show as always are the drivers on the track. Speedway officials have built a Saturday night “happening” surrounding their stars, using in-house demographic studies to target their audience.
The race night starts at 6:00 p.m. and lasts no later than 9:30 p.m. Their website, http://coloradospeedway.com is live on race nights even as the webmasters Twitter, Tweet and Text with fans as close as the grandstands or from any place in the world. Colorado National NASCAR Home Tracks Page
Opened in 1965, the .375-mile paved oval and surrounding complex has expanded into a showplace complete with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop and Denver as its marketplace.
Track owners Jim and Sue Nordhougen are at the heart of what could be considered the prototype for the next generation of Saturday night racing events. Jim Nordhougen is a former Super Chevy drag racer and real estate developer who is a free but calculating thinker. He’s not bashful about trying something new at Colorado National, a longtime NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track.
“We try to keep open-minded. We’re not so closed-minded that we can’t think outside the box,” Nordhougen said. “We have three central areas of focus we work on: the pit side, the grandstand side and marketing, then make it all work together.”
The Nordhougens returned from the annual track operator seminars and workshops in February 2008 and decided to pick up the pace of their race nights. They did away with qualifying and replaced it with half-hour afternoon practice sessions. Drivers draw numbered pills, then a coin is tossed to determine even and odd numbers in qualifying races. The qualifying race results determine feature event lineups with one exception: a fan rolls a giant inflated dice on the front straightaway that determines an inversion of one through six for the feature’s first six starters. Race time – referred to Nordhougen as “Prime Time” starts at 6:00 p.m. sharp and is targeted for conclusion between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Double-file restarts were also instituted starting this spring. Borrowing from drag racing, the racing surface is treated with VHT, a sticky resin that expands the racing area of the track to two and three grooves.
“It’s made the racing so much more exciting and we have less spin outs,” Nordhougen said.
With Prime Time, “we want to have quality racing at a fast pace that’s done by 9:30 at the latest,” Nordhougen said. Every race night at Colorado National Speedway is scheduled, including intermission.
For casual fans new to the track, intermission events include novelty races on the track’s Figure Eight course, car club parades, circle drags, Faster Pastor, or their “Fab Four” event. Fab Fours are track-owned four four-cylinder cars painted like NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. Fans enter a drawing to compete in a four-car, four lap first race. The top two finishers run in a two-car, two-lap feature.
Pulling everything together for the fans in the grandstands is track announcer Marc Mosser who is also the radio voice of Denver’s Colorado Avalanche NHL hockey club. “He’s into what’s fun and exciting,” Nordhougen said.
“I just put people in place who enjoy doing what they do,” Nordhougen said of his staff. “We have a great team. That includes our drivers. They are the show. They aren’t just drivers – they’re the stars. They make things exciting.”
Scotty Backman is Colorado National Speedway’s track manager/operator, and brings a driver’s perspective to how things are done on a race night. He was the track’s 2006 NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model division champion, and placed fifth in the regional points. He was also the 2006 Rookie of the Year in NASCAR’s former Midwest Series. He’s been a force in developing customer outreach based on the demographics.
“Our Marketing Director Mindy Harkins developed a fan survey, and then offered fans a free bottle of water or soda to complete it and turn it in,” Backman said. “We asked basic questions about age, income and where they heard about us. We had about 8,000 responses.”
“That was a real eye opener,” Nordhougen said of Harkins’ work. “Our regular fans were 35 to 55 years old. We were weak in younger fans 18 to 35. We needed to develop younger fans, and set out to do it.”
A new game plan was set.
“We totally revamped our website (with partners JRG Media and Wayne Advertising, a two-man crew) to help reach beyond the audience we’ve had for years,” Backman said. “We’re on Facebook and Twitter. Our site is live and interactive on race nights with pictures and race results. Fans are texting to our web guys from the grandstands on their cell phones. We’re really blowing it out. It’s done what we wanted it to do, in reaching the newer and younger fans we were missing before.”
Backman also said the survey showed that reaching fans by local radio and Internet race promotion have grown to be equals.
In addition, the track developed three off-beat television commercials that air on economical late night local television that also reach the younger new-fan demographic. Cost-wise, the airtime is less than production costs.
“A local newspaper called us in 2008 and asked us if the economy situation was hurting us, and we said no. We think our fans are staying closer to home and are more often with us. The next thing we knew, a local television station sent a crew out unannounced to cover our success in a tough economy,” Backman said. “That’s when it all took off.”
Reaching A Major Market On a Small Town Budget
Mindy Harkins is Colorado National Speedway’s Director of Marketing and Sales, charged with identifying the speedway’s customer base, then breaking through to reach and develop potential new fans. Advertising and marketing in a top-25 U.S. Market has been traditionally difficult for family operated businesses such as weekly short tracks due to cost of ad buys.
Harkins and the CNS staff have found ways to penetrate their market with speedway promotions while targeting specific demographic groups.
The track does their annual demographic study during their season ending annual Challenge Cup weekend when crowds can reach 12,000.
“We know we’ll get the most benefit from surveying our largest crowd,” Harkins said. “We set up long tables and ask our fans to sit down and fill out our survey. We offer a free bottle of water or soda for their time. We ask things like age, sex, income, education, radio habits, family information, and their purchasing habits at the track.
“Most recently, we found we were going up in attendance in our older and younger fans, and in between - the 18 to 35 group - we were declining comparing 2007 to 2008.”
First-time visitors were up three percent 2007 to 2008 and those who attended 10 or more races was down five percent 2007 to 2008. They also learned on average that adult spending was about $20 for food, beverages and souvenirs over the course of a race night. Through a capital improvement program, the track is about to double its kitchen and refreshment service capacity with a second location at the track, and officials expect that to significantly increase food and refreshment revenue.
Comparing 2007 to 2008, men attendees decreased to 53 percent while women attendees increased to 47.
Interestingly, their leading geographic audience segment had become a moving target. The dominant area where attendees came from in 2007 was the northern market at 42 percent. In 2008, the northern market had fallen to 22 percent while the Denver metro area had risen from 16 percent in 2007 to become the leader at 22 percent in 2008. In all, the survey identifies nine separate residential hubs in their marketing region.
Harkins then knew the areas in which the track needed to work: reach out to 18-35 year olds, and figure out how to build their Denver metro audience on a family business budget.
“Jim and Sue have a motto: the only seat that costs us is an empty one,” Harkins said. “We’re doing $5 Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Military and College nights and keep our pricing consistent at $10 for adults, $5 for kids and children free.
“In total, we have 350 to 400 drivers from all over our area. At the beginning of the season, we gave each driver 10 adult tickets and asked them to give them out to friends at work, church or their neighborhood. We asked them not to use them for family or team members. That alone expanded our sales force unimaginably. Our drivers are proud of their track and they know we care about them.
“Our website guys, Brian Enyart and Eric Guttormson are really tuned in to going after our market. They are having a blast with it and so are the fans. They work out of our control tower the whole night, getting Marc’s color commentary. Our younger demographic is so into it that it’s a natural for them to latch on to.”
The track’s new era outreach to the techies is complimented by old school promoting, too.
“We have a relationship with Coors, and we’ve got a Colorado National Speedway poster that will be on all 211 of their delivery trucks here,” Harkins said. “We’ll give all the truck drivers tickets to the track, and in exchange, they’ll go into every bar and store they deliver to and put up one of our posters.
“We’re building a portable billboard on a snowmobile trailer and asked our teams and sponsors to take it out and set it up where they work for a week. I had 10 people ask me to take it out before I got out the door after that meeting. That gets us around the high cost of billboards throughout the area.
“The Colorado Renaissance Medieval Summer Show is an annual event in Denver. They reached out to us to bring performers and hand out brochures at the track. They bought radio ads to promote their appearance. They brought characters in costumes … everything from princesses to court jesters. They handed out thousands of brochures and it was another win/win situation.”
The track also does outreach through community service, making new fans along the way. A local chapter of a national group called “Positive Spin” works with high school students who are at risk for dropping out of school or failing. The local group, “Thunder Kids,” is building a race car as a project that teaches the basics in a pretty exciting way. They write press releases, create posters, create and use a budget, applying science, math, reading, writing and vocational skills. The students must maintain a prescribed grade point average to participate in the program.
Colorado National Speedway has a second-year pace car from their sponsor Hajek Chevrolet in Longmont, Col. The dealership has authorized the car’s sale via a raffle to benefit “Thunder Kids” operating budget. The students are involved in the sale of raffle tickets and the car has a busy appearance schedule, selling chances to win while promoting a worthy program, the dealership and the speedway.
Groundbreaking Interactive Race Night
Colorado National Speedway is breaking new ground in the short track industry with its exploitation of new media, making it the most electronically interactive racing program in North America. If you want to participate on race nights, just bring your cell phone or Blackberry.
The revolutionary system to promote and communicate with fans was created by Wayne Advertising owned by Enyart and JRG Media owned by Gottormson. The new era dawned in February with the introduction of the track’s new state-of-the-art website.
“Never before have Colorado National Speedway fans felt as though they have this close connection with the track,” said Gottormson.
The new website features a widget on the home page (and a larger version in the CNS Media Center page) that can display text, images and video that can be entered via a cell phone from anywhere including the pits, grandstands and scoring tower. That means the duo staff can take a picture or video in the pits, get a quote from the driver and have it on the website with a simple text message from the cell phone. Fans can see nearly live video instantly.
Fans in the stands and around the world can follow the action on their cell phones if they follow CNS on Zannel.com, Twitter.com, Facebook.com or MySpace.com. Fans can ask questions from their grandstand seats that the Gottormson and Enyart answer from the control tower.
They also update a half-dozen social media networks throughout the week including Zannel, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube.
In addition, they use BigWestRacing.com to do detailed live racing updates during Colorado National Speedway racing events. BigWestRacing.com (BWR) is the region’s number one auto racing news and information site. On BWR, the duo creates a running detailed log of race lineups, finishes and other observations. Fans worldwide are following the CNS thread on BigWestRacing.com.
“With all the new media tools available, this gives CNS fans a way to participate in all new ways,” said Enyart.
“We have a strategy,” Guttormson said. “In the afternoon, we’re telling people what’s going on in the pits, how many Late Models have signed in, and what the weather is like. The message is ‘You gotta be here.’ Once the races start, we’re constantly updating what’s going on.”
The duo’s last duty of the night is writing and distributing the race results story and results to media and fans.
Track officials across the board agree with Guttormson’s philosophy of the expanded information and entertainment value they provide.
“If you ignore these tools, you’re missing out,” he said.
Wayne Advertising and JGR Media are also responsible for creating non-traditional outside-the-box television ads aired on Denver area Comcast cable service. The ads can be viewed on www.youtube.com by searching “Colorado National Speedway commercial.” CLICK HERE TO SEE ONE OF THEIR COMMERCIALS
Have A Great Time
Entertainment is a primary theme of any race night at Colorado National Speedway. Complimenting the on-track sizzle is professional radio announcer Marc Moser.
“His whole dynamic is he knows the driver’s families and he knows where they sit,” Harkins said. “Everybody knows him and loves him.
“People can e-mail him during the races and he’ll respond on the P.A. He has a theme song for every one of our divisions when their features roll out. He’s very creative and fun.
“He’ll banter with the fans if we have down time. He’ll threaten to sing, get roundly booed, and then sing anyway. He’ll fill time with his own version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” and people might have a chance to trade and envelope for a box which could be something nice, or not.
“Our customers are our guests. We give them great hospitality and outstanding service,” Harkins said. “We’re real proud of what we do at Colorado National Speedway, and we have a big team who works hard for our goals.”