In order to bring in a new fan base and maintain the existing one, it is "extremely important ... absolutely critical," Paul Szmal said, for local racetracks to diversify their events and work cooperatively.
Szmal is the new race director for Rolling Wheels Raceway, the five-eighths-mile dirt oval that will host as its first event of 2017 not the modified stock car races it became known for in the dirt racing world but a flat track motorcycle racing event.
The track that is located in Brutus and straddles the border between Cayuga and Onondaga counties hosted the American Flat Track motorcycle racing series — formerly AMA Pro Flat Track — last August when the series could not compete at the still-under-construction Central New York Motorsports Park.
Szmal said that event was so successful that both the series and the track wanted to add a Rolling Wheels date to the series schedule. The race renews what had been "quite a bit of heritage of motorcycle racing in the area," he added, dating back to the days of the Syracuse Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds.
"Dirt flat track motorcycle racing is starting to make a bit of a resurgence now with their re-branding as American Flat Track," Szmal said, noting that all 18 of the series' events are broadcast tape-delayed on NBC Sports Network, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app and live-streamed through FansChoice.tv. "It's reaching a whole new audience of people."
Szmal added that last year's event at Rolling Wheels was the first such race in central New York in about a decade since a similar event at Vernon Downs, and previously, the closest the series came to the northeastern United States was a race in Hagerstown, Maryland.
"Depending on the success of this year's event, we would entertain having more than one in 2018, and I think American Flat Track probably wouldn't mind," he said.
Ten or 15 years ago, he said — before the advent of the internet, tuner cars and other forms of entertainment — auto racing, particularly on the local level, was thriving. Now, it's "much more difficult to bring in a new fan base," making it crucial for tracks to hold new events to attract new fans.
"I've always been an advocate of one the best ways of doing that is to do things that are not necessarily traditional and the traditional modified stock car race kind of deal," Szmal said of the track's desire to bring in American Flat Track. "While you have that audience there, introduce them to the concept of what a dirt track race is about and get them to come back."
Following the Saturday, July 8 motorcycle race, Rolling Wheels will host its first stock car event of the season Thursday, July 13 with a slate of double modified and sportsman features for the Summer Broiler.
Calling the two events "not a bad start to things," Szmal noted the track had originally planned a multi-day event leading up to July 4. But, that time of the year conflicts with several other area racetracks hosting both weekly races and special events.
"We have to work together," he said. "We can't be fighting for the same piece of the pie. It's just ridiculous to do that."
Canandaiuga Motorsports Park, where Szmal also works, is hosting a special event Thursday, June 29 and its weekly races Saturday, July 1. Outlaw Speedway in Dundee runs its weekly schedule Friday, June 30, as does Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon Sunday, July 2.
Weedsport Speedway, just five miles away in the same township, is holding a special event Monday, July 3. Szmal said it is important for tracks to work together and share their fan bases for their mutual success.
"Even if we weren't running the same divisions, just the idea of splitting the fan base out and forcing them to make the choice of go here or go there doesn't do any of us in the industry any good," he said.