News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

May 8, 2013

TRACKSIDE: Rain still a pain for Wabash Valley racing organizers

TERRE HAUTE — Soggy weather conditions, which have rightfully drawn the ire of Wabash Valley race fans and crews in recent days, continue to plague promoters where it hurts the most — their pocketbooks.

While postponements and cancellations can prove to be a disappointment or inconvenience to some, a washout can have far-reaching effects for the promoter.

Just ask present-day and former Action Track promoters Bob Sargent and Gerry Olson. They know a little about the bouts with the elements when it come to staging motorsports events.

Together, they have a combined 56 years of experience in race promoting. They’ve seen the best and worst of times when it comes to battling the weather.

Whether it be an annoying postponement or a more costly cancellation, both say nobody comes out a winner when an event is either delayed or lost to the weather.

“It’s all bad. There simply isn’t any good situation when it comes to rain,” said Sargent, who will promote more than 100 events a year, including those at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.

“Rain can be your worst enemy, but it comes with the territory,” conceded Olson, a former Wisconsin resident who now makes Terre Haute his home. “It’s simply part of the business.

“The fans really have no clue the details that go into putting on an event — the hundreds of man hours that go with preparing a race track, the promotion, the advertising and the scheduling — especially with a show of the stature that you will see at the Action Track.”

Both promoters agree that even a postponement can prove costly from a timing and financial standpoint.

It’s estimated that a promoter will conservatively lose 20 to 30 percent of his monetary front gate even if he is able to reschedule his show.

“That might be a conservative figure,” offered Sargent when presented those figures. “That’s probably on the low end. It’s hard to recover what you already have put into an event.”

Olson agrees. He says that today’s paying spectator has a much different lifestyle than those of 28 years ago when he first started promoting.

“People have such hectic schedules these days. Both the husband and wife work. They budget their schedule for entertainment very tightly. When that schedule is interrupted, there is little time for changes,” he added.

Rescheduling can be a challenge for a promoter, especially when the shows are sanctioned events, like those locally. Of the six events slated for the Action Track this summer, all are run under the sanctioning of either the U.S. Auto Club, Midwest Sprint Car Series or United Midwest Promoters body.

“There’s only so many dates available,” Olson explained. “It can be a real challenge for the promoter and sanctioning body to be able to settle on a makeup date. It’s never simple.”

For Sargent, the task of rescheduling can be daunting. In addition to promoting USAC events locally and at the Indiana, Illinois and Du Quion State Fairgrounds, he operates weekly shows at Macon, Ill., and Paducah, Ky.

The decision on if and when to throw in the towel on a show never comes easy for any promoter. The timing is always difficult.

“There’s never a good time, but sometimes the decision is made for you several day ahead of time,” Olson pointed out. “The tough ones are those that come the morning or afternoon of a race. It’s those late calls that are the toughest and hurt the most.”

Sargent says the job, while he never likes to make that decision, has become somewhat easier with today’s modern technology.

“Things have changed over the years,” Sargent emphasized. “With the help of today’s weather radar, we’re able to get the word out easier and quicker to the fans and racers. We can wait longer on making a call. At the same time, the last thing we want to do is have people travel great distances only not to race.”

Promoters can protect that interest with race insurance, but the process can prove risky and expensive.

“It can prove very tricky,” revealed Sargent. “You have to take it out 30 days in advance. It operates on a sliding formula on the amount of coverage you want. The amount of rain fall, the location and timing are figured in.”

“Normally, it’s not in the best interest of the promoter. It’s a big gamble,” voiced Olson, who won and lost his share of battles with the weather when promoting at the Action Track.

 

Joe Buckles can be reached by email at jbuckles4@frontier.com.

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