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Every day someone walks into the shop and asks "Where do they
run these things?" and "If I get a kart, where should
I go to race?" And every club and track operator nearby expects
that the kart shop owner or employee will send those newcomers to
their track. Not only do they expect it, but they're mighty unhappy
if the kart shop sends these new racers somewhere else. I've heard
all sorts of explanations, from accusations of shop owners getting
kickbacks from tracks (ridiculous!) to sending new drivers to tracks
where competition is weak so they'll feel good (unlikely). The truth
is much simpler than that, but it may not be what the club members
or track operators want to hear.
At the very heart of the question is this, "How do we attract
and keep new racers racing?" It's a matter of some concern to
clubs and tracks, but its VITAL to the survival of the kart shops.
Our sport has a natural attrition. People quit racing because they
get married, or have kids, or change jobs, or lose their jobs, or
just get tired of it, or a thousand other good reasons. Without
a steady supply of "new blood" coming into the sport,
it will dry up and disappear. The industry knows this, and so they
stage trade shows, and expos, and generally campaign to make more
of the non-karting public aware of what we do and encourage them
to join us. The shops know it too, and so they participate in those
shows and expos, and look for every opportunity to bring more new
racers into the sport. But are the clubs and tracks helping the
situation or hurting it?
Let's strip it away to the bare essentials here for a minute. Kart
racing is fun, or its supposed to be. And kart shops are not so
much in the engine business, or the chassis business, or the parts
business, as they are in the FUN business. Our job, as retailers,
is to see to it that our customers get what they come to the shop
for. And what they come for, my friends, is fun. Its our job to
help them to get whatever parts, service, or whatever they need
to have the best chance of enjoying what they're doing. If we don't,
if they spend their hard earned cash and end up having a lousy time
race after race, it won't take them long to say "To hell with
this! I'm going to go do something else." Shops that fail to
realize what the true nature of the business is will not last long.
On the other hand, the shop that goes out of its way to maximize
their customer's chances of enjoying themselves will be rewarded
with not only those customer's repeat business, but more new faces
from racers' friends and acquaintances. There are too many other
diversions out there competing for people's entertainment dollars
to risk running them off because they're not having fun. Don't get
me wrong. Everybody's going to have a bad day at the track from
time to time. That's the nature of racing. The key is make those
days easier to take; for the racer to see them as just a bad day,
and not a reflection of an unfriendly attitude.
So what can the clubs and tracks do to help the situation? Let me
start by asking a question.
What happens when you walk into your local kart shop? Or, for that
matter, what happens when you walk into any store? Doesn't someone
almost always say "Hello", or "Can I help you find
something?" or some other type of greeting? Now, what happens
when you drive into a strange racetrack for the first time? And
what happens when strangers drive into YOUR track for the first
time? I've been to dozens to tracks where strangers are treated
with suspicion, and some where they face open hostility. WAKE UP
PEOPLE! It doesn't matter how strong you think your club or track
is, people are leaving the sport every day, including at your track.
If you don't make an active effort to solicit new racers, make
them welcome, and make them want to come back, its only a matter
of time before your club or track is history. Every karter at every
track should make it his or her personal mission to speak to everyone
they see that they don't know. Ask if they've ever been there before,
and if not, if they have any questions about gearing, race schedule,
or whatever. Veteran racers traveling the country from track to
track may not need your help, but they'll remember that you were
friendly, and when they go to the next track, they'll probably send
more racers your way. Beginners and newcomers desperately need your
help and, more importantly, need to feel like they're not so all
I hear from racers every week about this racetrack and that racetrack.
Lots of experienced racers like the challenge of traveling from
track to track to race new competitors every week. And newcomers
are trying to get adjusted to a new sport and are looking for a
track they like to run. Unfortunately, what I hear too many times
is that they were not made to feel welcome. Or they were pretty
much ignored and left to figure it out for themselves. (It can be
anything from what the class rotation is to where the bathrooms
are.) I also hear that strangers are routinely held to a different
standard of on-track behavior than the track "regulars".
Strangers, particularly if they run well, get man-handled and booted
around on the track by the regulars, but earn a black flag if they
nudge back. Believe me, the word gets around. Racers tell other
racers, and they tell shop owners, who tell other shop owners, and
they all tell other racers. No club or track can afford to get that
kind of reputation.
The same goes for tech. If a club gets the reputation for gunning
for outsiders in the tech shed while they let their locals slide,
entries will fall. Tech has to be fair, but firm. And it has to
be handled uniformly, regardless of whose engine is on the bench.
Some tracks have local option rules that a newcomer may not be aware
of. There's another reason to say hello to new faces at the track.
I know of one father who found out at teardown that the track they
were visiting required a different size junior restrictor than anywhere
else they had run. Nobody had bothered to tell him or his son, but
everybody in the club knew. Believe me, this father has told everybody
in 5 states about how those so-and-sos screwed his son in tech after
he beat them on the track.
Every racer at every track should make it his or her business to
see to it that their track doesn't develop a bad reputation. And,
if you agree that this is as important as as it appears, how about
appointing a track host or hostess? Wal-Mart, one of the most successful
retailers in history, has someone near the door of every store,
greeting customers and offering directions, or whatever other help
is needed. Now other businesses are following suit. I stopped at
K-Mart a few days ago and they had several people roaming near the
check-outs, steering people to the shortest lines, saying hello,
stuff like that. Its how you retain customers, and, in the racetrack
business, its how you retain racers. If each club picked a volunteer,
someone not racing themselves but knowledgeable about the track,
to roam around the pits speaking to people, just think how much
nicer the atmosphere at the track would be. By having a broader
view of who was at the track and what resources might be available,
that person could refer racers looking for a particular part, or
a welder, or whatever. It could be an incredible plus to YOUR track,
the kind of plus that brings racers back again and again.
Make your track the one that visitors want to come back to, the
track that they tell their racing friends about and bring them to
as well. Shop owners will happily send their new customers to you
and everybody benefits. More racers mean more racing. And more racing
is almost always better racing. See ya at the track!
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