Do we need to use more tracks?

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Watching the Townsville V8 Supercar event over the weekend, it is clear that the sport has an ability to attract large amounts of sponsorship and government support. But who says it should just be V8 Supercars that has a mortgage on this kind of investment and for that matter, street circuits in general?

One of the current perceived weaknesses in drag racing is a lack of facilities, or at least facilities that meet the requirements for ANDRA Pro Series racing – particularly in Melbourne.

But the numbers are interesting. V8 Supercars has a season of 14 rounds this year. Three of these are international and six of them are on street circuits (if you include Bathurst). Just six races take place on permanent Australian circuits (although this is likely to increase to seven with the return of the round at Barbagallo Raceway in WA to the calendar).

Ironically two of these circuits are next door to or part of the same facility as drag strips – Willowbank and Hidden Valley. If Eastern Creek ever makes a return to V8 Supercars that is right next door to Sydney Dragway.

Suddenly the deficit does not quite seem as bad.

Here’s the tracks operating in Australia including their ranking in terms of population if inside the top 50 cities in Australia.

As well as tracks in the capitals of Sydney (1), Brisbane (3) and Perth (4), we also have quarter mile tracks in Mackay (21), Darwin (16), Alice Springs (outside my Wikipedia research but I believe around 45-50), Gladstone (31), Launceston (17, although going through some issues at the moment, but virtually next door to Symmons Plains, where the V8 Supercars race), running under ANDRA sanction, all major population centres.

There are three quarter mile facilities currently running outside ANDRA sanction, Calder (2), Heathcote (20) and Townsville (13).

I haven’t got to the eighth mile facilities yet. Mildura (32), Ballarat (19), Portland, Roma, Warwick and Whyalla all run ANDRA sanctioned events.

So there’s 14 facilities straight away, not including the non-ANDRA tracks. Yet the ANDRA Pro Series and Rocket Allstars Racing Series only use four of these.

The recent Mildura Slamfest showed a successful event featuring a Pro Series bracket (albeit in a non-championship scenario) could be held at a regional eighth mile facility. What’s more, the event attracted the attention of the whole town and the facility even got some support from local council to make upgrades.

It’s this kind of support drag racing should be tapping into. V8 Supercars offers a great product to a place like Townsville, could drag racing do a similar thing but cheaper and with better value for money?

The Townsville V8 Supercar event gets a $2.5 million contribution each year from the State Government, on top of the $14 million it paid up front to assist in the construction of the parklands complex. The council provided $5 million up front and the Federal Government also topped up the coffers with a lousy few millions.

It should be noted that from this the town has been able to establish a facility the whole community can use for festivals, concerts and so on.

Could we do this with drag racing?

One way is to offer a product that drag racing can bring to the town that brings in X number of racers and X number of fans. Top Doorslammer and Top Alcohol would probably be prime candidates. In this imagination of this perfect world the racers come to town, create a buzz, bring in some tourist dollars and show off the town on the TV show. In return council invests in upgrades to the track, benefiting local racers and making the facilities more suitable for high horsepower cars. Eighth mile racing would probably be the aim of the game here, I think this could easily be embraced as part of the Pro Series championship. Certainly tracks that have trickier surfaces and the challenges involved in eighth mile racing would mix up the championships and from my perspective make them a bunch more interesting to write about.

Speaking about media coverage, regional media would eat this up and you are likely to draw your spectators from a wide area. And realistically that is more media coverage than you would get in capital cities where sports sections are mainly concerned about the major teams and frankly so are most of the people.

A more radical idea is the following. As we have seen in Townsville a purpose built area has been created which caters for the V8 Supercars and the needs of the community. Could drag racing do this? Establishing 600 metres of racing surface (200 strip but 400 braking area) wouldn’t be too hard in a lot of regional areas, it may not be up to the standards of the ‘big three’ tracks but could certainly be constructed well. Community facilities could be built that could double as pits and towers and corporate areas. I’m sure I’ve glossed over many practicalities here but I’d ask you just to think outside the square a little and wonder if we couldn’t offer up a product to areas around Australia that offers them the glitz and glamour of the Supercars coming to town but at a fraction of the cost and for a great return.

Imagine if we could say to a town, provide us with $100,000 and we provide you with a round of a national drag racing championship and X amount of return for your investment in coverage for your town, tourist dollars and so on. Pretty cool don’t you think? The good thing about having several categories is that you can split them up around the country and cover a lot of areas, certainly getting a lot more personal than V8 Supercars does.

There is no reason these regional rounds could not work in perfect tandem with the big tracks either. Most are running the Pro brackets two to three times a year. Another two or three regional rounds serves to enhance the championship contest and the TV shows can be used to promote upcoming rounds.

I wrote a lot of this before the recent cancellation of the Palmyra round of Pro Stock.

I guess the question is – do we want this for the expansion of the sport, or are we comfortable with the status quo? Leave your comments below.


Luke Nieuwhof

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