The reality is that the unpredictability of the economy over the last couple of years has spilled over into the drag racing market. In both cases, some people are doing well, others are struggling, and everyone is wondering how things will eventually shake out.
Luckily, speed shops that count drag racers among their customers can take a proactive role in shaping the future of their business. Instead of simply hoping things get better or waiting for some type of bailout, there are steps shops can take now to strengthen their position with the quarter-mile crowd.
From stocking the right products, to attending races, to educating customers on the value of quality and service, successful performance retailers are aggressively pursuing opportunities wherever they can find them. And there are opportunities still to be found.
The companies that make products used in drag racing are interested in helping shops any way they can. They can be a source of information and motivation when it comes to turning a profit with racers who drive in a straight line.
Here, they share some thoughts on the current state of the drag racing market, and what shops can do to take full advantage.
Ups and Downs
Opinions on the current state of the drag racing market vary. Some see a strong year for the sport; others not so much.
“There are a lot of cars parked,” says Ken Warner, VP sales and marketing for Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels, Stow, Ohio. “We do extensive market share studies and we are seeing far fewer cars attending races this year.”
The culprit, he believes, is rising costs.
“Raw materials have driven tire and wheel costs up,” he explains. “Fuel is up; everything is up. This is a very cost-sensitive market at this time.”
Ed Urcis, technician for CP-Carrillo, Irvine, Calif., sees much the same thing happening.
“Business is approaching sales levels of about two to three years ago. However, racer turnout to events is lagging behind and is off from prior levels,” he says. “The number of racers, both sponsored and private, who have cut back on their programs (is surprising). Everybody is concerned about how much they are spending on racing.”
But there are signs that things may get better soon.
“The drag race market is definitely improving from what we see here,” says Duane LaFleur, sales manager for Jiffy-tite Co., Lancaster, N.Y. “The numbers of race teams calling to purchase our products have increased, and so have our sales.”
And the new generation of muscle cars hitting the streets may be stoking the interest of first-time racers.
“Drag racing seems to be holding its own in motorsports,” notes Todd Ryden, director of marketing for MSD Ignition, El Paso, Texas. “The performance of late-model vehicles has probably helped get some new blood to the tracks and enjoying their cars-and then searching for ways to improve their performance.”
In fact, he says, the come-one, come-all attitude of drag racing is one of its greatest strengths.
“Drag racing remains easy to get involved in, and is the only form of motorsports that accepts nearly any budget to get involved,” Ryden adds. “You can take your daily-driven work truck and run it in the bracket classes just to have fun and be involved.”
The suppliers agree that there have been some new developments in the market that can give shops a fresh sales angle.
For instance, “Drag radial tire development is strong, and the competition is on,” Warner says.
Other areas where LaFleur sees opportunities are safety and new technology.
“Things that make it easier, safer and faster for the racer,” he says. “Time is money, and when you can save time in the pits for the racers, you make their job easier.”
In fact, whether you are dealing with first-time drag customers or guys who have been coming in for years, he recommends introducing them to your latest and greatest new arrivals.
“Drag racers are willing to try new ideas and don’t mind change,” LaFleur says. “In other markets, it is not as easy to get racers to open up to new technology. Drag racers seem to be more open-minded and advanced in new products.”
Ryden, too, sees drag racers as the type to take a chance on a new product to see if it adds speed or reliability. And in many cases, the more high-tech it is, the better.
“Racers are much better informed about products and technology,” he says. “A laptop is an important tuning tool and is an integral part of a racer’s toolbox and in the pits.”
Regardless of the type of product a racer is interested in, however, it’s the quality that can matter most. It requires an intricate balancing act to provide racers with a part they need to go fast that will last, while still staying within their budget.
Urcis notes that when price wins out over quality, the racer can often suffer in the long run.
“The average racer has less money to spend on racing,” he says. “Some are buying at the lowest cost they can find, jeopardizing the quality of parts and performance. The smart racers are buying the best quality to last longer and get more for their money. The middle ground is shrinking.”
Plans of Attack
The parts suppliers were asked to name three things shops can do to increase sales to local drag racers.
Says Mickey Thompson’s Warner:
• Have it in stock.
• Avoid air freight on tires due to lack of planning
• Do your homework and understand the difference in pricing between having a product in a retail store versus the customer having to special-order the part. The product in stock should command a better price point.
Says Jiffy-tite’s LaFleur:
• Carry proper inventory levels. We as manufacturers get calls from racers stating that their race shop doesn’t carry what they need. We understand inventory costs money, but it is important to have what the customer needs.
• Educate the customers. Show them what is new and what is popular in the drag race market, and how they can save time and money while at the races.
• Use displays to show customers how the product works. Let the customer touch and feel the products. Even showing them applications of where the products work best is always a plus.
Says CP-Carrillo’s Urcis:
• Shops should explain it is better to spend a little more the first time than to do it cheap and have to do it over.
• Let customers know that advances keep happening, and that parts are getting better all the time. Today’s parts perform better and last longer than ever before.
• Shops can align themselves with top manufacturers in each segment to give their customers confidence that they are keeping up with the latest and greatest trends and developments.
In many cases, it is a shop owner’s knowledge and expertise that is most attractive to a drag racer. And the best way to show you have what it takes to help racers go faster is to tell them about it.
MSD’s Ryden explains that performance retailers who make an effort to head out to the drag strip to meet with and support competitors are the ones those racers will turn to for parts and service when they need them.
“Get involved with the local track and be out there on race days,” he says. “Walk the pits and talk to people. Get to know what they need and what parts are best for their car and setup. Service and technical knowledge are going to be what helps get them off the Internet and into your store.”
In most parts of the country, drag racing is still an important warm-weather pastime, where racers test the limits of their machines and families enjoy the camaraderie and excitement that can only be found at the track.
And while the economy sorts itself out, you can stay in the middle of the action by supplying the drag racing community the parts, service and expertise needed to maximize their performance.