Motorsports: A Major Draw For Fans

NASCAR and IndyCar Series draw tens of thousands of fans to watch high-speed action and hear the roars of uber-horsepower engines flying around tracks from the Southeast to the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast.

But beyond those two racing behemoths, there are a plethora of motorsports at various levels that also attract thousands of fans and competitors to venues around the country. If it has an engine and goes fast, people want to watch. And that, of course, means a boost to the local economies of any city or small town where motorsports events are conducted.

The Sports Car Club of America has some 65,000 members, making it the largest motorsports club in the U.S. In the course of a “normal” year, the SCCA sanctions around 2,000 events through 115 regions and subsidiary divisions.

Jim Llewellyn, SCCA Public Relations Manager, said qualities the SCCA looks for in a host venue depend on each event’s “unique” needs.

“In general, SCCA looks for quality competition venues that are likely to produce exciting racing that can also accommodate the number of participants expected for each event.”

Also considered are nearby lodging/camping options to house competitors, support crew, volunteers, families, and spectators. Local attractions, restaurants, and nightlife also play into the equation, and the SCCA always looks for supportive, helpful partners in terms of the venue management and local government agencies.

Competitor entries for SCCA “showcase” events vary; some events are intended for larger fields, others for a limited number of entrants. The SCCA National Championship Runoffs, now in its 57th consecutive year, set a record in 2017 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana with 969 entries. For the last couple of years, the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championship drew around 1,250 entries. Other showcase events are designed to serve only a couple hundred entrants. Thousands of fans attend each of the major events.

While Llewellyn said the SCCA doesn’t conduct economic impact studies, he cited past independent reports that showed the SCCA mid-Ohio runoffs alone resulted in a $7 million economic impact for the local economy.

The MotoAmerica Series motorcycle racing organization holds 10 rounds of competition in a typical year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rescheduling of several events this year, said Paul Caruthers, Communications Manager for the organization.

The schedule includes stops in Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Alton, Virginia, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Millville, New Jersey, Monterey, California, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Shelton, Washington, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Birmingham, Alabama. The MotoAmerica Series recently added two new venues—The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and The Ridge Motorsports Park (Washington). The events can draw anywhere from several thousand fans upwards of 75,000.

What we look for from a venue is the racetrack itself,” said Carruthers. “It has to be safe for our racers (generally between 100 and 150) and there has to be the infrastructure for teams and fans. We are normally dictated as to where we can go by the actual racetrack.”

As for the economic impact on the cities in which they are held, Carruthers said, “With our teams, riders, fans, MotoAmerica staff, volunteer staff, etc., our paddock is rather large. We fill hotels, restaurants, and other local establishments for four days (the teams) and three days (spectators).”

The Vintage Sports Car Club of America holds several events, many of them in the Northeast. A Labor Day weekend event (not a VSCCA event, per se) draws hundreds of members and spectators and is a major national event run by Murray Smith and track owner, Skip Barber, at the historic Lime Rock Park in Falls Village, Connecticut.

With dining and lodging over several evenings, we are a definite revenue contributor to the towns and areas where we recreate,” said Sandy Leith, President of the VSCCA. The events draw between 30 to 200 drivers and their companions.

The VSCCA, in an ordinary, non-COVID-19 year, holds two late winter/early spring regional “tech sessions” where members meet at a race prep or restoration shop to learn various aspects of tuning and appropriate preparation of vintage sports cars. Said Leith, “We try to hold a New England area meet and a Southern New Jersey/New York or Pennsylvania event to cover our largely Northeast membership. We are usually found at Lime Rock Park on four occasions during the year; Spring Sprints and Driver’s School in early May; Empire Cup in July; Lime Rock Historic Festival over the long Labor Day weekend; and our Fall Finale, a “Pre-War Celebration” in early October.”

In recent years, the VSCCA has added the White Mountain Vintage Grand Prix, held at the new Club Motorsports facility in Tamworth, New Hampshire. The event was held July 10 and 11 and was the group’s first official event of the 2020 “COVID-19” calendar.

Said Leith, “Our events are usually held at the same locations each year, but there are minor deviations from time to time. This year was our third visit to Club Motorsports in Tamworth and we are hopeful it becomes a staple on the calendar.”

For fans that like their motorsports down and dirty, the Mud Racers Association is just the ticket. The MRA, a form of off-road motorsport whose goal is to drive a vehicle through a pit of mud or a track of a set length, will host events this year in Florida, Wyoming, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Colorado, and South Carolina. Each event is usually a two-day affair that consists of competition in eight classes from Open Paddles and Open Cuts to Outlaw Pro Stock and Pro Stock Renegade.

We average 65 competitors per event,” explained Kimberly Monesmith, Secretary for the Association. “At one race in Missouri, we had over 100 competitors from 14 states and a few from Canada. In traveling from venue to venue, we also have locals, within a three to four-hour drive that will race with us, but don’t necessarily travel to all of the events.”

The American Power Boat Association holds multiple National, North American, and World Championships across the country. States such as Florida, Michigan, and Washington, among others, host these large-scale events.

Typically, once an event is established in a specific location, APBA will return year after year,” said Becky Nichols, Director of Operations. “We are always looking for new event sites and will remain loyal to those with established relationships. There are many sites across the country on our yearly schedule that have been around for more than 50 years.”

What the APBA looks for from a venue varies “greatly” said Nichols, “depending on the type of event we plan to hold.” Some events, she added, will need a lot of space, blocked off roads, and local sponsors. Other events demand a parking lot and a hotel option. “It’s great when the cities can get on board with the events and promote them through their local businesses.”

At some of the more significant APBA events, there can be well over 500 entries. At a smaller event, there may be closer to 150 entries. “Depending on location and promotion, events can draw thousands of fans at a time,” said Nichols.

The APBA events are a boon to communities where they are held, said Nichols. “APBA members venture out into the local businesses, hotels, and restaurants, helping to boost the local economy. According to a study completed in 2018, over 60 percent of our members stay in a hotel at the event site, and the other 40 percent will typically stay in a local campground. The majority of our members will also help stimulate the local chain and casual dining restaurants.”

Since the dawn of aviation, people have loved looking up and watching brave men and women in their flying machines. The Reno Air Racing Association hosts the STIHL National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, each year at the Reno-Stead Airport just 20 minutes from downtown.

Fred Telling, CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association, explained that the STIHL National Championship Air Races feature seven racing classes. In 2019, a total of 124 planes and 134 pilots were “signed off” to compete in the races. “According to the 2019 economic impact study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno, the event hosts a total of 110,000 visitors annually. That same economic impact study found the event generated more than $100 million in total economic impact to the Reno-Tahoe region by non-local visitors.”

The Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas has hosted SCCA Regional Autocross/Solo and Pro Solo events for the last two years, said Travis Hilton, Track Manager. “SCCA also brings their Track Night in America to Heartland on multiple occasions throughout the year, as well as its National RallyCross meet.”

Solo/Autocross events are held in a fenced-off 20-acre section of Heartland. The Track Night in America and Kaw Valley events are held on Heartland’s 2.5-mile road course facility, while the National RallyCross meet in a 30-acre field of grass. While each event has its unique demands and variances, attendance numbers can easily reach thousands for some of SCCA’s premier events. Heartland also hosts large scale National Hot Rod Association national and regional events on a drag strip that brings in over 600 competitors and thousands of spectators.

Said Logan Hildebrand, Marketing Account Manager for Visit Topeka, “There is a large majority of competitors/attendees that come out of state and frequent the local restaurants/hotels/attractions that Topeka has to offer. We work directly with a couple of local hotels for scheduling and both see dramatic increases in booked rooms depending on what we have going on at our facility. It is through our facility’s eight racing courses (each customizable in a variety of ways) that we’re able to typically operate nearly 200 events a year.”

Lincoln, Nebraska, is another hotbed of motorsports. The city hosts numerous SCCA events, such as the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championship and the Tire Rack SCCA ProSolo Finale, to be held in September this year, the Lincoln ProSolo that was canceled this year due to the pandemic. The Lincoln ProSolo is being replaced this year with the two Summer Nationals Central Championships in late August. All SCCA events are held on the “West Ramp” of the Lincoln Airport.

The events have been well attended over the years,” said Derek Feyerherm, Senior Director of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce/Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Solo National Championship is the world’s largest motorsports competition in terms of its competitors. They have between 1,300 and 1,400 annually. The other SCCA events held in Lincoln have between 250 and 500 competitors. The Solo National Championship alone has an estimated economic impact of nearly $3 million annually.”

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also gets its share of motorsport events. “We are a major sports destination due to our ability to host a wide variety of events at several area venues,” according to Jennifer Hawkins, SportsPITTSBURGH Executive Director. “The Pittsburgh International Race Complex hosts MotoAmerica Superbikes, providing residents and visitors alike the opportunity to enjoy several types of road racing.”

Sarah Reed, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, said the MotoAmerica Series event typically brings well over 15,000 individuals to the area over the weekend. “We know that there is a significant economic impact on the area, especially the hospitality and restaurant industries. Area businesses have grown to expect crowds during the MotoAmerica event.”

Whether on land, water, or in the air, motorsports entertain millions each year in cities large and small, bringing the added benefit of economic impact to local businesses.