Joe Hayes grew up around auto racing and loves the sport.
But as the promoter for Farley Speedway Promotions, Inc. — which runs races at Farley Speedway and Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway — he also understands the business side of these weekly shows.
It’s not fun losing money week after week after week.
“It was a very, very difficult decision,” Hayes said about the Thursday night announcement that Farley Speedway has suspended its weekly program for the rest of the 2018 season. “You never want to see this happen.”
Farley Speedway will continue to host special events — like the World of Outlaws Sprint Car race on June 22 — and, he said, weekly races will continue in Dubuque.
“We are committed to Dubuque,” which, ironically, is hosting a Fan Appreciation Night during its weekly show on Sunday.
But Farley just wasn’t seeing the numbers — in the pits or in the stands — to sustain a weekly program.
And for a guy like Hayes, that stings.
“It hurts,” he said. “We want to see it grow and thrive.”
Auto racing, in general, has struggled for several years — at all levels. It has been widely reported NASCAR is for sale and suffering from dwindling attendance and TV ratings.
But not every track is feeling the pain.
Benton County Speedway in Vinton, for one, continues to succeed.
“We’re pretty fortunate in Vinton,” said Mick Trier, who helps run the Sunday races. “We’ve got a pretty good following.
“This is their one event they go to every week.”
But he feels for Hayes and tracks like Farley Speedway.
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“Obviously the entertainment dollar is getting tougher,” said Trier, whose track hosts the annual Urbana 5 Memorial on Sunday. “Nobody likes losing money ... (and) we’re not making the money a lot of people think ... our costs have gone up.
“(But) I’m not pushing the panic button yet.”
Farley Speedway, Hayes said, was drawing 45-50 cars a week and 200 to 300 fans. Benton County Speedway topped 100 cars last week and averages around 80 or 90 every Sunday, Trier said. The grandstands generally are full.
“In some pockets you have plenty of cars,” Hayes said. “Years ago, we used to be in that pocket.
“There’s just no rhyme or reason.”
One of the factors, Hayes said, is fans have more entertainment outlets than in the past. And younger fans find entertainment through technology and social media.
“I would rather pay a ticket and go to a race ... that’s what I choose to do,” Hayes, 52, said, adding while he watched Thursday night’s Stanley Cup Final on TV his sons were getting entertained on their devices. “They get their information (other ways) and they feel like they’re involved in it.”
Even though Benton County Speedway — as well as tracks in Boone and Marshalltown — prosper, Trier thinks racing has simply gotten too expensive for a lot of drivers.
“We’ve seen a change in racing the past five or six years,” he said. “The race cars are too expensive ... way too expensive.
“We’ve done a poor, poor job of keeping the costs down for the racer ... It just makes it tough for the average racer.”
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Hayes wishes he had the answer for keeping tracks like Farley and West Liberty Raceway — which suspended its operations after last season — viable.
“If I had that information, I would be the richest man on the face of the earth,” he said with a laugh. “How people are spending their entertainment dollars. That’s the question we have to keep asking ourselves.”
Hayes won’t hang his head for long, however. He thinks this is just a down cycle for local tracks.
“It will come around again,” he said.
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