Going in Circles

Apr 11, 2013

The green flag has already dropped on the 2013 circle track season, with local series roaring into the first turn. With and without help from Mother Nature, dirt and asphalt oval tracks across North America are coming alive.

For speed shops, that means another season of selling parts to racers.

The best way to do that is to know what products are out there, and which selling strategies are most likely to produce the biggest profits. So we asked a number of manufacturers about their newest goodies, how they think the year is looking and, yes, how to sell more to this thriving market.

The Leading Edge

We started by asking about the new parts. So, just what is hot in circle track products?

“The Mallory CT-PRO ignition. Although not entirely new, it has evolved over the years to keep up with the changing demands of the circle track racer, and has been designed specifically as an endurance racing ignition,” notes Graham Fordyce, senior product engineer at Mallory, a Prestolite Performance brand.

Designed for engines producing 900-plus horsepower at or above 9,000 rpm, it features voltage regulation and extensive heat sinking to deal with voltage spikes and heat generated by the internal circuitry.

“The limiter is much easier on engine parts, and allows the driver to lean on the limiter and use it as a tool to set up the car,” he notes. “For example, the driver can keep the pedal on the floor without unsettling the car while the limiter is activated during testing. This allows the crew to select a gear change or tire size for the track conditions.”

Roger Mealey, COO of KRC Power Steering, notes interest is high in his company’s Pro Series aluminum power steering pump.

“Since we designed and built this pump from the ground up specifically for racing, we were able to optimize every single component. That resulted in extremely low parasitic horsepower loss, a lower-weight pump and exceptional reliability,” he says. “Our serpentine front drive kits continue to increase in sales for built motors and crate motors. These kits make it really easy to be certain you have the correct components so everything lines up properly and you have all the correct ratios.”

Moroso makes custom oil pans for top-level circle track teams that Thor Schroeder has to keep secret.

“What I can tell you about is the different products that can be used in circle track…(including) oil restrictors for aftermarket blocks that reduce oil flow to the upper engine assembly, leaving more oil available for the rod and main bearings.”

Moroso also offers breather tanks with roll bar mounts that Schroeder says, “are perfect companions for vacuum pumps, dry sump tanks or rear ends. They’re aluminum, lightweight tanks that feature internal baffling with mesh media for separation of air and oil and include a non-hooded, clamp-on-style filtered breather and a bottom petcock drain and come in three part numbers for different AN and NPT fittings.”

As far as carburetors, Bill Tichenor, director of marketing at Holley Performance Products, starts with an E85-calibrated version of the company’s Ultra HP racing carb that will soon be available.

“Many racers, especially in the Midwest, are using E85 as an alternative to race gas because it is far less expensive than race gas, yet has higher octane than pump gas,” he notes. “We spent a considerable amount of time making sure the calibration is correct. E85 flows more, so the calibration has to be different. It is also more corrosive than pump gas, so certain parts of the carb need to be made of different materials. We started with our Ultra HP carb that we released in 2011, which has already become hugely popular.”

And an exciting product from Tiger Quick Change is the company’s High-Performance Rear End Oil, according to Ashlee Sieveke, director of marketing and business.

“It is a heavy-duty, extreme-pressure gear lubricant compounded in a fully synthetic base with no petroleum base whatsoever. In addition to reducing friction and wear caused by extreme temperature, the oil contains additives that prevent rust, oxidation and corrosion from occurring, as well as an anti-foaming agent to maintain top performance and extend the life of the quick-change (rear end).”

More to Come

Spring is always a time for optimism, and our sources believe that good things lie ahead for shops serving the oval track market.

“I feel like there may be some modest gains in car counts this year and if the construction and housing industries continue to improve, we may see even more gains next year,” says Mealey.

Schroeder is also anticipating a strong season.

“Why not?” he asks. “The NASCAR season has started off with a lot of excitement, the sport is being talked about in headline news and in general conversation with even non-enthusiasts. Gas prices are at good levels right now and could get better in the future with oil and natural gas drilling now booming in the United States.”

Sieveke notes that early activity from racers should make for good times ahead.

“Indications show that this circle track season will be extremely successful. Teams seem to have started preparing earlier than they have over the last few seasons, most likely due to the poor economy.”

Of course, things are different in different parts of the country. So, to take advantage of the positive conditions, shops need to be tuned-in to their local markets.

Asked about unique local demands for professionals, Schroeder points to two areas: “crate engines and knowing the rules at the different local tracks.”

Tichenor also recommends paying particular attention to what’s in your warehouse and on your shelves.

“The product mix (shops) need to carry and know about is a little different than drag race or street car parts. They need to work with their WD to understand which products are considered consumable in the circle track market.”

A key realization, Sieveke says, is that each customer will come in with individual needs.

“Identifying the different needs of each customer is crucial. Asking the right questions and educating the customer on the options available and the performance advantages of each is especially important.”

After all, grueling circle track events put cars, drivers and parts to the ultimate test.

“It may look like a Sunday drive around an asphalt or clay track, but make no mistake that they are very violent conditions,” says Fordyce. “Bumps, holes, ruts, following too close and the occasional rubbing all create vibration and heat issues that a spectator couldn’t even imagine. This gives speed shops and engine builders the opportunity to find products or combinations of products that will survive in these extreme conditions and give a unique offering to their customers.”

A background in racing or experience serving this market will take a shop far.

“It may seem obvious, but you have to have counter people with good technical knowledge,” says Mealey. “The technical knowledge that racers themselves have is a pretty broad spectrum from good to not-so-good. A good, knowledgeable counterperson can help them get the right parts and keep them coming back for more. Beyond that, you have to keep a constant watch on your inventory. Circle track racers can rarely wait long for a part, so it needs to be on the shelf when they need it.”

What to Watch For

Even with a positive start to the season, however, there are factors that could affect this year’s circle track market-from gas prices, to weather, to back-ordered parts. Our experts encourage shops to plan accordingly.

“Gas prices are always a factor,” says Holley’s Tichenor. “When they go up, racers tend to stay closer to home-not just because of race gas prices, but also the cost of fuel to tow their car as well.”

Mallory’s Fordyce agrees, but with a twist.

“As we’ve seen in the last several years, fuel prices and the economy play a huge role in discretionary spending. Racers will always find a way to race, but they may limit the number of events. This mainly affects consumable products. Fans, however, may forgo the trek to an event to save money and therefore not see a new product they can’t live without.”

Depending on the complexity and demand for a particular product, having what racers need when they need it is always a challenge.

“I have heard from a few chassis vendors that they have been having issues getting the parts they needed, because they are on backorder,” explains Sieveke. “Availability of quality parts could potentially influence racers and manufacturers. Luckily for Tiger Quick Change, we make everything we can ourselves in the machine shop onsite right here in Mount Ulla, N.C.”

Usually in this section, we are discussing the economy. Could recessionary trends finally be behind us?

Count KRC Power Steering’s Mealey among those who are seeing thing getting better.

“It looks like we’re past the economic downturn and things are finally starting to improve,” he says. “I would caution shops not to be too cautious this year by keeping their inventory down. That can cost sales in the circle track market that can’t be recovered and, worse, you could lose a customer with a substantial lifetime value.”

And Moroso’s Schroeder reminds us that there are some outside factors that can work in favor of a strong selling season.

“Positive influences that will help this year’s race season are great weather with few rainouts; gas prices that stay where they are or even drop; and a stock market that stays strong.”

Taking Advantage

Finally, we nudged our sources for some successful sales strategies shops can use to increase profits from this client base.

Sieveke says, “Our sales strategy is simple. We focus our marketing efforts on what separates our product from the competition. We also work hard to make sure we have the products on the shelf when the customer needs them. Our marketing strategy and product are geared more toward the racer that is looking for the best product available to increase horsepower and speed, and the quality and performance of our quick-change reflects that.”

Competing on price alone can be a losing proposition for serious shops, making your service and know-how vitally important.

“Knowledge of the products and market (help shops) eliminate the shopping for price factor and increase your profits,” says Fordyce. “Offer experience and knowledge with every sale.”

Mealey likes looking at the big picture.

“I think the single most important thing to remember is that every circle track racer represents more repeat business than most other types of racing or street performance. Be sure to maintain a good relationship with the racers in this market and you’ll see strong, consistent sales.”

Schroeder says success is a byproduct of becoming part of your local oval track community.

“One successful technique that can be used to establish long-term relationships with racers is listening and addressing their needs and proving to them that you know something about their sport by being involved or reading up on the different series and classes,” he says. “Another technique is attending races as a shop and being involved with the sport.”

This approach lends credibility and builds a rapport with competitors.

“From the customer’s viewpoint, it separates the shop that just treats their business as a business to one that mixes business with their passion,” he explains. “A shop that is involved with racing does add credibility in the customer’s eyes. It elevates the business from one that just sells parts to one that has a specialist or specialists to help in the buying process. If it’s not possible to have a shop race car or to go to the track every weekend, it could be as simple as sponsoring local racers with a discount on parts and having pictures of their cars in the store.”

So, Tichenor says, get out there and start selling to circle track racers. Literally.

“I have seen successful shops actually have a trailer stocked with parts and take it around to the local tracks. You will get to know the racers and what they need. If they expect you, they will save their purchases until they see you and the part firsthand. It is a great way to sell things like carb tuning parts, gaskets, plumbing parts, shocks, etc.”

And a great way to tap into this lucrative market that only appears to be going in circles.