No Cutting Corners

Nov 15, 2011

The tracks are quiet and all but closed. The race cars have shut down and gone back to the garage. The winter work of rebuilding and replacing engines, bodies and chassis has begun.

So, what’s next for circle track? How will parts sales fare this off-season and into next year? And most importantly, what can shops do to take advantage of the opportunities this great market provides?

That’s what we wanted to know, so we asked some industry experts to prognosticate about the prime building season for left-turn cars. And while they’re at it, how about a few tips for selling to this market as well?

Time Flies

To move forward, we must first look back. So, how was the just-completed oval track season?

“Overall, I think the season has been pretty good,” says Jeff Stacy of FK Rod Ends. “We are seeing car counts rising and that’s a plus. We’re not seeing as many new cars being built as we were a few years ago, but as the economy gets better, so will the racers’ finances.”

Quick Fuel Technology’s Bill Wetzel agrees.

“It has been a good year, especially at local levels. (However), rising fuel costs have cut into traveling markets.”

In some cases the market held steady.

“The circle track market, despite the economy has stayed about the same as last year,” says Jeff Behuniak, marketing coordinator for Canton Racing Products. “Even with the (current) economic situation, we haven’t seen the circle track market get hit really at all. It speaks to how important the sport is to people when, even in tough economic times, they are still doing everything they can to stay competitive.”

And optimism is high.

“Overall, the motorsports market is doing well,” notes CJ Jones of Jones Racing Products. “Our dealer network continues to grow and our dealers are working hard to ensure strong sales on both replacement products as well as introducing new kits. Dealers who showcase our product for the walk-in customer have a distinct advantage by having the parts on display and in stock, therefore promoting sales.”

And Gerald Williams of Tiger Rear Ends adds, “The market has been excellent considering the economy. There has actually been an increase in sales compared to this time last season.”

Winter Work

Next, we asked our experts what they foresee as being the hot products this winter, and what types of racing will lead the way.

Wetzel: “E85 is hot for QFT. Also, our new SSR-650-CT 650cfm 1.250-inch Circle Track carburetor is gaining popularity.”

Jones: “Jones Racing Products’ introduction of the PS-9008-AL-AR power steering pump with an integrated fluid reservoir featuring numerous options for the return line will surely be a hot item. Customers who are updating cars and building new can reduce costs by eliminating hoses and fittings normally used when plumbing to a remote tank. Customers may choose from high or low along with a 90-degree, 45-degree or a straight fitting-whichever suits their needs. Each pump, tagged by a serial number and archived at the Jones Racing Products facility, undergoes complete testing on an in-house, custom-built power steering pump dyno that allows accurate pressure and flow settings, along with a replication of the demands that the driver desires from his steering.”

Behuniak: “We are actually coming out with a new small-block Chevy circle track pan. It is a shallow L sump pan with a one-piece seal. On top of the new pan we have redesigned our CM filters to perform even better. As for race series, it’s the time of year when everything is nearing the end and people are making preparations to rip apart the cars and start rebuilding for next season.”

Williams: “Our new Wide 5 hub. The benefits of this lightweight, one-piece aluminum billet hub are its strength and durability. Also, 16-bolt tubes in steel, aluminum or chromoly, and 8-bolt snout with brake brackets. The rear ends have Teflon thermal coating inside and out.”

Stacy: “It seems like local racing series and regional touring series are doing well. The racer that maybe used to run a national touring series has scaled back to a regional touring series and a lot of guys that were racing regionally are now racing locally. Either way, the racers are figuring out a way to race. Product-wise, we are seeing people going after lightweight parts. We are also seeing people spending a little bit more on higher-quality products.”

Profit Potential

Looking forward, we asked about areas for profit going into 2012.

“It’s extremely important to keep inventory on hand in order for the dealers to meet their customer’s needs,” says Jones. “When racers are looking for parts, they are more likely to buy them onsite rather than to wait for a shipment to arrive. Most racers are competing every weekend, giving them only a few days to obtain the needed products, install them and be ready to go back to racing.

“Waiting on a shipment can put the racer behind,” he continues. “Retailers who have product in stock have a sales advantage. It is also imperative that dealers have a one-on-one relationship with the company whose products they are selling. Attending industry trade shows offers a great opportunity for the dealer to see the complete line offered from their vendors. Although the dealer may not carry all of the products displayed, this will give them some insight into what is available for their particular market.

“Vendor representatives are available at the shows to educate their dealers and discuss which products will work best for the applications racers in their area are requiring. When a customer places a call to their dealer asking for a particular item that is not carried, the dealer will be able to say, ‘I know exactly what you need and I know exactly where to get it.’ This answer will in turn boost sales and strengthen the dealer-customer relationship.”

Stacy notes that this building season may reflect last year’s in that many racers will be looking to refresh rather than build something brand-new.

“Replacement parts and maintenance items will be hot,” he says. “The racer doesn’t have the budget for a new car or a new motor, so he has to keep his old stuff going. Having the parts to rebuild the suspension or re-plumb his oil system is a must. When a customer has decided to spend his money, you don’t want to give him any reason to not spend it with you.”

Quality, as always, is an attractive component.

“The areas for profit in 2012 are going to be in quality, long-lasting products,” Behuniak predicts. “With the economy where it is, people are looking for the best value they can find. No matter what facet of the automotive community you are a part of, when money gets tight and you don’t want to give up your favorite hobby, you have to be choosy with your parts selection and quality counts. We are constantly taking any issues we may come across and redesigning to make our products an even better. Our main goal has always been to provide quality, lasting products so that teams don’t have to keep replacing parts and can keep improving their car instead of maintaining.”

And while everyone is looking for that homerun account, don’t forget that smaller sales add up.

“Small parts, such as jets, power valves, gaskets, floats and repair kits to service the racer will be profit generators in the coming year,” Wetzel explains.

Challenging Times

Of course, those profits don’t always come easy. So, our experts outlined the likely challenges shops will need to overcome.

Number one, of course, is the sluggish economy.

The biggest challenge, says Williams of Tiger Rear Ends, is an “inability to foresee the changing economy.”

It seems change is an important word these days when it comes to the oval track market.

“The motorsports industry is ever-changing. Manufacturers are consistently testing new and innovative ideas, both to create new products as well as improving the functionality of their current ones,” says Jones of Jones Racing. “The nature of the racing market is to create a product that promotes speed and efficiency. Because of this cycle, it is hard for dealers, if they are not attending trade shows or reading trade publications, to keep up-to-date with these advancements.

“It is also important for dealers to be aware of any rule or specification changes that may affect the products that they are selling,” he adds. “Most racers are aware of pending changes, whether it is on the local track level or a touring series. Staying informed, visiting local tracks and speaking with customers and other industry leaders will help the dealer adapt quickly to any changes that are ultimately made.”

Another challenge, notes FK’s Stacy, is finding time to get away from the shop to hit the local track.

“Shops need to go to the races and see what is being used by the racers,” he explains. “We sell parts around the world, and what is hot for a racer in New Zealand isn’t necessarily hot for a racer in Iowa. The local shops need to take an interest in the racing in their area.”

Quick Fuel’s Wetzel takes that basic idea one step further.

“Work with local race tracks on promoting lowering the cost of racing. This includes reducing restrictions and regulations, which has helped cause a rise in the cost of racing.”

“The only advice I could give to any shops out there is to be open for anything,” notes Canton’s Behuniak. “Motorsports has become a very diverse and ever-changing industry. To be competitive nowadays you have to be willing to adapt and change in order to stay at least with the curve. A lot of people are looking at alternatives to stay competitive and there is a lot of opportunity out there with different car platforms.”

Success Assured

Lastly, we asked for some tips on what shops can do to assure success in the circle track market.

“Have the parts in stock,” says Stacy. “If you want a guy to spend money with you, he will expect you to have the part in stock. If he has to wait two or three days to get it, he will be more inclined to buy it mail-order.

“Don’t give the customer a reason not to buy from you,” he continues. “Most circle track racers race for points. They can’t afford to miss a week, and are usually willing to pay a little more for a part if they don’t have to wait. Knowing the parts that the local racers use will help you spend your inventory dollars wisely.”

Summed up nicely, Williams recommends: “Concentrate on customer satisfaction and customer service.”

And don’t forget quality.

“The first and most important thing shops can do is only use quality parts on their cars,” Behuniak says. “Circle track is very demanding and many cars break down in the middle of races. As many circle trackers know, breaking down in the middle of a race is not only frustrating but can cost valuable points.”

A lot of it comes down to knowing your customer.

“One, work more closely with local race tracks,” Wetzel says. And two, carry an inventory of small parts demanded by racers, which includes tuning parts and repair parts.”

So, while racers may have hit the pits for the off-season, it’s never too early to start thinking about getting back on track.