Safety, technology could affect racing attendance

By: 

Scott Owen, Leader Columnist

To say that our world has changed since 1990 would be an immense understatement.

Some news that recently came down regarding the Luxemburg Speedway and the fact that it needs to cancel two weeks of racing due in part to low attendance got my mind going.

In 1990, when I began to regularly attend racing at the Shawano Speedway, I distinctly recall having to get to the track early to get a seat; not just for special races, but for a weekly show. I have read newspaper clippings from the 1960s and early 1970s that talked about a weekly crowd of over 4,000 spectators.

Currently, there are numerous tracks that would be happy to get 1,500 fans in the stands. So, what has changed?

Well, first off — though this may be a morbid statement and one I, as a hardcore race fan, do not necessarily agree with — racing is too safe. Take a moment and think about that statement. At first, you may be taken aback, but consider what is watched on social media and what is shared in the popular media. Wrecks get the most attention.

In the early days of racing, I would venture to say that just as many people came to the races to watch good wrecks as came to watch good racing. Danger was in fact rewarded. The first driver to roll over on a race night was awarded a case of beer.

Think about Evel Knievel. Do you think everyone watched him to see how many buses he could jump or how many bones he would break?

Currently, cars and drivers are much safer, which to me and the families of racers, is a good thing, but when it comes to attendance, I think it hurts.

Second, there are just so many other ways in which to spend one’s entertainment dollar. It started with cable television and the plethora of channels it brought. Now, there are numerous streaming services that can provide movies and complete television series all at your fingertips without even leaving home. Who heard of binge-watching in the 20th century?

Finally, everywhere you go in public, people are on their phones, and I’ll admit I do it sometimes too. Sports stadiums are installing Wi-Fi so fans can update their status at the game.

To me, racing has been about building relationships. I have built countless friendships through racing. If you’re on your phone, though, you will never form a connection with people around you.

What is the answer to these questions? That is a column for another day.

See you at the speedway, and make sure to introduce yourself. I’m running low on friends.

Scott Owen is the track announcer at the Shawano Speedway.