Nobody would argue against the importance of catering to a young fan base, but Iowa Speedway is pulling out all stops to get kids through the gates in 2017. RACER.com spoke to track president Jimmy Small to find out more.
Have you had time to take stock of how Iowa Speedway’s 2016 season played out?
JIMMY SMALL: 2016 was really good. It was my third season as the President out here, and I was still kind of getting my brains around running a race track. But this year was the most smooth year we’ve had, and it had some unbelievable winners.
It kind of shocked me towards the end of the year. We had William Byron winning in the Trucks, and Erik Jones in the XFINITY car; I thought those two would go on to win the championships. It pretty much seems to be the case every year that the winner here at Iowa Speedway in those events goes on to win the title, and probably about half the time in IndyCar. So it was sort of shocking to see both of those guys get beaten in the last two races of the year, but I’m really happy for [eventual champions] Johnny Sauter in the Trucks and Daniel Suarez in XFINITY.
So it was another good season and we’re ramping up for 2017 now. A lot of people ask us, ‘what do you do during the fall and winter?’ They expect us to go into some sort of hibernation, but that couldn’t be further from the case. Normally we spend a lot of time scheduling the 2017 events, but the good fortune we had, working with NASCAR and IndyCar this year, is that we got way ahead of that and were able to announce our schedule by our last event weekend in July.
So a lot of time has been spent over these past few months building up around the 2017 season, which we’re super-excited about.
You switched the IndyCar race from Saturday to Sunday this year. How did that work out?
It worked out really well for all four parties – for IndyCar, for NBCSN, for Iowa Corn Growers, and for us. Iowa Corn Growers, which backs the Iowa Corn 300, they’ve been invested in this place to utilize it as a platform to get the message out about corn production, and how corn is in everything, and the benefits of ethanol performance. And IndyCar has been a tremendous vessel for their message because they run on such a high ethanol blend.
So IndyCar is a big platform for them to get their message out there from Iowa to a global audience, and to have the TV performance up again for the third or fourth year in a row was really good for our partners.
And for us, it was really good to have a Sunday afternoon/Sunday evening race with a Saturday night feature and a concert after the ARCA race because over the last few years it has been a fan favorite. We introduced it two years ago – I think in 2014 we had a Sunday race for the XFINITY Series – and fans really enjoyed it. They get to come in on Thursday and Friday; Friday is usually spent with some track activity; we do our Horsepower Hour [radio show] in the Newton Club, and then Saturday is when the action begins. We have the Saturday night concert, and then with the Iowa Corn 300 you have two big races before the main event, so three races in one day. That ticket is a hell of a value at just under $20.
The other thing that our fans love about that switch to Sunday racing is that for a lot of our fans coming who aren’t camping, especially the ones who buy the weekend packages and the season ticket packages, which are our most popular product out here, a lot of them have difficulty getting out here on Friday with enough time to tailgate and meet friends and take in the family activities before the first event of that weekend. So having a Saturday night feature, a Saturday night concert and then a Sunday night race allows them to come in on Friday night if they’re camping, or Saturday, and spend the full day out here with friends and family, having a good time.
You have some cool ticketing initiatives for 2017 to help get some younger fans in …
Yeah, we do. Our campaign for season tickets is centered around the super powers of our fans. So, our fans are our superheroes – that’s the approach we took, and I guess you could say that Iowa Speedway is the activation point for their superpowers. We want to stress the value that we’re providing back to our biggest customers; the ones that continue to renew with us; that keep us in jobs and keep our livelihoods going every year.
So ‘fans with benefits’ is the biggest piece of those superpowers. So for example, by renewing a season ticket with us, you have the opportunity to have a Suite seat upgrade, or a Club suite upgrade, garage access, paddock access, pace car rides, other special opportunities that pop up each and every weekend. So that has been our focus.
New this year is the kid’s edition of that. Fans have been asking for the last couple of years for a youth season ticket, and we are super-excited to finally provide that. We spent a lot of time during this off-season thinking through how we can develop a package that offers a really special rate – 50% off a season ticket for kids 12 and under – and also give them a kids edition of the upgrades.
We already do a lot of kids initiatives out here, whether it’s the kinds-only driver press conference, where only kids can ask questions – that’s one of my favorite thing. And we have Crash Course up in the Concourse that has all sorts of activities and entertainment for young kids , and has an educational STEM spin on it.
So to bring another layer of focus on kids is really important to us. It’s really important to motorsport. I might be going out on a limb, but I think we’re the only speedway offering a kids season ticket with that kind of pricing and those kinds of upgrades. It’s really neat, and I’m really happy to be doing it.
To add to that, we’re joining in on a NASCAR initiative that was announced earlier this year where kids 12 and under can get tickets for free. It’s limited quantities and certain sections apply, but we’ll be offering free tickets to every event. The initiative started with just NASCAR events earlier this year, and as a NASCAR-owned and operated race track, we extended it to all of our events. So all six event days, all eight events, can be free for kids 12 and under.
Now, you may be asking yourself why we also have a kids season ticket. With the free tickets for kids, the availability of seats varies. A kids season ticket allows a parent to buy and reserve a seat for all six event days in 2017, and have the opportunity to review that in future years. Having that ability to reserve a certain seat is something that our fans see real value in, and they see great value in that.
You only announced a lot of this quite recently, but have you had much feedback from fans yet?
We did. We had a soft launch a couple of weeks ago with the single and weekend tickets, along with a communication out to our season ticket holders – that’s something we always want to do; provide messages to them ahead of the public release and give them a bit of a head start.
They’re the ones that we stay in closest touch with, and it’s important for us to treat them with the respect and preference that they deserve. And already we’ve had a lot of positive feedback, with fans calling in saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re finally offering this; I talked to so-and-so about it last year and it’s really neat to see you take feedback and turn it into a product that quickly’. So we’re looking forward to a lot of kids coming out here next summer.
I’ve been to the track a few times, and it’s still striking to head into the cornfields on the outskirts of Des Moines and find this great racetrack with a really enthusiastic fan base.
I get letters from fans all the time, and we have unbelievable fans here in the state of Iowa. We had one fan in particular who was a huge IndyCar fan. Unfortunately she passed away this past summer, but she made me these pins ‘Iowa Speedway fan’; ‘I love Iowa Speedway’, and I’ve had them on my desk right in front of my monitors since I started here.
We have unbelievably passionate fans. I think it stems from Knoxville originally, but the rich history of the dawn of the automobile here in central Iowa … I could talk to you for two hours about that. There’s a deep-rooted passion for automobiles and racing here in Iowa, and we’re proud to carry the NASCAR and IndyCar banners here for the state. And Knoxville does a hell of a job to serve racing on dirt. That passion is what makes it so much fun to work out here.
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