Those that know dirt trackin’ know it for its vastness, intensity and a very wide band of products that appeal to its many customers. The dirt track market has always been the sleeper of the racing markets.
On the surface, it seems like yet another niche market, ready to be worked and pretty much always there. But those that know dirt trackin’ know it for its vastness, intensity and a very wide band of products that appeal to its many customers.
We polled four manufacturers that are known for being “in the trenches” at dirt tracks to see what happens when racers decide to get dirty.
Our first question was about the 2009 season and the overall condition of the sport.
Jim “Spike” Logue of Wilwood Engineering starts us off: “Success is a relative term (beauty is in the eye of the beholder) because it can be difficult to define, as one person’s success may be labeled by another as a disappointment. Looking purely at product sales figures, one could probably surmise the overall dirt track market is in trouble. However, when you consider all of the other factors, such as the economic crisis our country is in the midst of, I think the market is holding its own.”
The fact that racers are still out there sliding in the dirt is what’s important, he explains.
“Other factors that certainly play into the overall health of the sport are the profitability of the race tracks and the strength of car counts at those facilities, especially towards the end of the year, when racing bank accounts are severely depleted or non-existent,” he says. “(However), attending events such as an the Indiana Sprint Week USAC race, the World 100, North/South 100 or any of the Knoxville races certainly gives one the perception that dirt track racing is alive and well, as both fans and cars flocked to these events.”
Shanon Rush of Hoosier Tire says, “Overall, the dirt track racing market is healthy, especially in the dirt late-model and modified ranks. Car counts and number of events continue to be strong, although sales volume has slowed over the past three years. Cost containment continues to be a goal for many sanctioning bodies and race tracks. Whether it is accomplished with engine, tire or general rule structures, it continues to be a strong focus within our industry.”
Jeff Brotherton of Brodix Heads notes, “Brodix was fairly busy. As far as results, Brodix was very successful with the amount of wins we accomplished. Business-wise for the most part, most everyone was doing a lot of engine rebuilding.”
And Cory Flynn of QA1 Shocks adds, “The ’09 season was a really good year for the sport. We all know things slowed down a bit because of gas prices, the economy and other factors towards the early months of the season, but the sport snowballed and grew stronger as the season progressed.”
Why? Because racers love to race.
“The sport is passion-driven. You can take a lot of things away from a person, but you can’t take their passion. Dirt racing is very strong and will continue to be strong as we continue to go fast, go sideways and turn left.”
Our second question asked about the opportunities for the coming off-season.
Flynn of QA1 enthusiastically leads off. “Opportunities are everywhere! We use the off-season as a time to get out and work with the chassis builders and race teams. We’ll give seminars, clinics and attend tradeshows all over the U.S. to help answer any question chassis builders, racers and teams may have. We also use this time to work with sanctioning bodies, tracks and promoters to help build programs, which benefit the racers.”
Brotherton of Brodix says, “Hopefully, some of the racers have worn out their existing stuff, so new parts will be purchased. As far as our parts go, the 4.500 bore spacing engine is in our sights for the dirt late-models.”
Rush from Hoosier sees plenty of new markets. “In addition to the cost containment aspects of dirt track racing, new markets such as short-course off-road racing and stock, four- and six-cylinder classes appear to be on the rise throughout the country. In the existing markets, new products focused on fine-tuning established parts like shocks, bodies and tires have become very important.”
Logue of Wilwood adds, “Probably the best opportunity for anyone in the aftermarket supply chain is to get to a tradeshow to meet suppliers, get insight on new products and more education on existing parts. Tradeshows are also a great place to make contact with other small business owners and exchange ideas.”
So what, if anything, has changed in the dirt track market over the past couple of years, and how can local speed shops take advantage?
“Chassis set-ups have drastically changed over the past couple of years,” Flynn notes. “We are always evolving our product line and offerings to accommodate these changes. It was pretty common for teams to be picking up the left front of cars and carrying them almost the whole track. Now, we’re seeing less and less of that and more use of alternative traction options. Local speed shops have a great opportunity to work with local racers on various set-ups for the regions they’re in. We have a very well-trained tech staff full of racers and love to work with local speed shops on suspension set-ups.”
Brotherton says, “Obviously the economy has been a problem. It has forced racers to either not race or race closer to home. Hopefully, local speed shops will sell more fuel and tires, because of the opportunities that the racers are staying closer to home.”
Rush also sees the recession as a big issue. “Obviously, the economy has affected everyone in our industry over the past few years. It appears these challenges have made racers more ‘on-demand’ buyers. They are not making purchases unless they absolutely need them. At that time, they are also searching out the best service, price and performance. With these criteria, I don’t think anyone is better suited to fill these instant needs than the local speed shop.”
Logue brings up a timely aspect: “The entire racing market is evolving, primarily due to the youth movement in our sport and their use of the computer as a tool for education and purchasing. Local speed shops have to continue to forge relationships with the newcomers and take measures to be able to service their racing part requirements through communication and, more importantly, through stocking the parts the end-user needs. The speed shops must keep in mind that if it’s not on your shelf, it’s only a mouse-click away from the end-user somewhere else.”
So, what are some of the differences and/or benefits of serving the dirt track market? “The dirt track market helps our company out with our R&D program,” Brotherton says. “The late-model field is very open-minded on trying new stuff such as different valve-angle heads and different intake and exhaust ports.”
Logue gets to the core of the sport when he says, “Dirt track racing is and always will be a sport the middle-class can identify with. The racing surface itself tends to be an equalizer in the fact that it takes more than ‘the best money can buy’ to be competitive-”it also takes talent and dedication. You also see a family-like atmosphere at most dirt races across the country. Many times you’ll see drivers and crew members coming to the aid of a competitor in need of help in making quick repairs or changing a flat tire.”
Flynn adds, “Working with the dirt track market is full of benefits. Not only do you get to see some of the most exciting races on the planet, but you also get to work with a group of hands-on do-it-yourselfers. It’s a great mix for our product offering. We promote our racer re-buildable and re-valveable products and encourage this market to do so.”
Rush notes, “Dirt track racers by nature are more hands-on than many of the other markets we service. They mount, size and prep their own tires. They adapt to changes with their chassis setup and driving style more than requesting changes from us. Service for the dirt track industry is more information and consultation than direct product service.”
Finally, what’s in store for dirt track racing in the years to come?
Brotherton says the costs need to be addressed. “A more economical way of racing, such as spec heads and tires, is more than likely going to come more into play.”
Logue adds, “I believe continuing efforts are needed to make certain the sport maintains affordability for entry levels as well as for weekly racers. Crate and limited divisions and their recent gains in popularity are providing venues for new blood into our sport, which is vital to the continued well-being of the market overall.”
Rush says the market will continue to be attractive. “With the loyalty and passion of dirt track racers and fans, I believe this market will continue to flourish in the future. Cost containment and affordable classes to develop new drivers will continue to be a focus for dirt tracks across the nation.”
Finally, Flynn notes that dirt trackers will keep circling. “Dirt racing will continue to stay strong. I think we’re going to continue to make cars faster and safer and like always, see the best racing money can buy.”
So, if you’ve been thinking about stepping-up your efforts in the dirt track market, get ready for a wild ride-”possibly to the bank.