Knoxville Raceway has a lot of people who are very concerned with what it does. Consider the constituencies:
The track is governed by the 24-member Marion County Fair Board
Operation since 1954 has raised Knoxville Raceway to cultural icon status and created a large cadre of long-time, hard-core fans who are passionate about the track and its heritage
Local civic leaders recognize the track as a chief economic driver for the town of 7,300
All those interested parties — “stakeholders” in the business lexicon — means a lot of people expect to be heard on issues facing the track. Honoring its heritage has always been a big part of Knoxville Raceway. But at the same time the racing world is littered with once-mighty race tracks that are now abandoned to weeds because they rested on their legacy laurels rather than keeping up with the ever-evolving requirements for winning fans’ entertainment dollar.
Knoxville General Manager Brian Stickel says the biggest challenge facing Knoxville Raceway today is “visioning.”
”That’s seeing that long-term vision of what we want to be, where we want to go,” said Stickel, who led marketing at Knoxville Raceway for eight years before being named general manager in late 2012. “Over the last nine months to a year, we’ve set in motion for our board that we need a vision of where we want to be in 10 years, and five years and next year to create that kind of planning where we have concrete goals and objectives.”
Some of those goals include consideration of significant facilities upgrades at Knoxville. Current ideas include replacing an old skating rink called the “Skate Pit” on the turn one side of the track with a three or four-story structure that contains suites that can accommodate as many as 200 people.
In 10 years, perhaps more capital improvements including replacing some buildings near the track with a fair pavilion that can seat a thousand people banquet style.
Any capital improvements will be made from Knoxville’s own resources, Stickel said. The track has no plans to ask state or local leaders for tax breaks or other special assistance.
Such plans are still in the early stages and could easily change, but Stickel says the larger point is “to make things like that happen you have to have that vision and do that planning.”
While the process of creating long-term plans can be challenging given all the many constituencies invested in the track, Stickel said one of the strengths that a place like Knoxville brings is that all the various stakeholders want the same thing.
”If you work from your heart and all have the same ideals — which means we all want the racing to grow, we all want people to come here and be happy — if we all have the same ideals it’s ok to have different ideas,” he said. “We can share those ideas and we won’t always agree, but as long as we working toward those same goals and objectives then we can’t go wrong. And that’s something we are really trying to work hard at. That’s why we keep going back to ‘OK what’s our goal? What’s our objective? Is what we are doing here going to help fulfill those goals and objectives? And if you can explain it that way and take that approach then people seem to be a lot more open-minded.”
The positive side of Knoxville’s many constituencies is that they point to it’s most powerful asset, something modern-day marketers call “the brand.” The work of prior generations have made “Knoxville” is immediately connected with the elite-tier of dirt racks, and built the same brand élan “Knoxville Nationals” in winged sprint car world as the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 in IndyCar and NASCAR, respectively. That position hasn’t been built by a half a century of painstaking, day-in-and-day-out work that it takes to build an event’s reputation bit by bit.
The challenge is to nurture and build that powerful brand and not get complacent.
We’re going to work hard to make sure Knoxville Nationals keeps its reputation,” Stickle said. “It’s by far the biggest purse. There are might be events with bigger car counts I don’t think there is any sprint car event with bigger attendance, certainly over the four days.
“We hope there are events that come up and can push us a little bit. The King’s Royal (at Eldora), they definitely have a great crowd, great attendance and a great event. The more events we have like the Knoxville National, the King’s Royal, the national event they do at William’s Grove, the more events we have like that that’s just more interest we can create around the country and hopefully draw more people to each more events respectively an get more drivers involved.”
In part one of this three-part post, Stickel talked about the challenges and opportunties facing dirt track racing (read it here). In part two, sprint car driver Erin Crocker describes being behind the wheel of an angry 410 winged sprint (read it here).