Plugged In: Bob Lutz, Driving 101
Bob Lutz grew up in a motorsports family: His father owned five dirt tracks. Lutz founded the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Charlotte in 1992, then sold that venture and created the Mario Andretti Racing Experience and NASCAR Driving Experience. He operates those ventures and others under the umbrella known as Driving 101, where Lutz is president and CEO.
We put a big emphasis on social media and marketing and got outside of the typical race fan everyone was marketing and trying to capture dollars from. We tapped into mainstream America and thrill seekers and got them turned on to the thrill of driving a race car at high speeds.”
About grassroots motorsports: The motorsports customer has been affected by the economy. There are challenges with the typical race fan, but there are a lot of opportunities outside that fan. Myrtle Beach, for instance, we do a thrill show (with car jumps, bus racing and drifting) that is extremely popular. We draw 4,000 spectators for that. Race attendance is in the 700 to 1,000 range. To me, it means we’ve got to work on our racing and building a fan base by mixing other things into the racing to bring new fans to the sport.
Using social marketing tools: We use retailers like Living Social, Groupon and Google Offers to sell our product. They have a broad reach and create a lot of impulse drives. People see, “I can drive a race car, and it’s $195? That’s awesome.” People buy that. For us to go into a market and market our racing experience to the masses is cost prohibitive, but social media services allow us to do this.
Drawbacks for coupon systems: I don’t see a lot of negatives. Every business is different, and you have to come up with a package on the daily deal sites that has to work for your business. We created a package — a five-minute introductory class — for the sites. It works, and the fans love it.
An industry trend in motorsports: Hard-core fans love it as they always have. We went through a growth stage where the sport grew rapidly with new fans. We’ve lost a great number of new fans and have to get them back.
Corporate business: In 2009, when the economy turned, it went away. That forced us to emphasize our retail business. Individual business exploded by triple digits in 2010 and 2011. Corporate hasn’t come back as quickly. All business owners are a lot more frugal with their budgets. We’re seeing upward trends, but I don’t think it will grow as quickly as it did in the early 2000s.