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Volume 21 No. 2
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Kansas, Iowa tracks teaming up

Kansas Speedway has struck a deal to cross promote with venerable Iowa-based dirt track Knoxville Raceway, the latest sign that entities in NASCAR are trying to reconnect with grassroots racing.

There are hundreds of dirt tracks and paved short tracks around America, and Knoxville’s annual 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals, part of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series, is one of the most prestigious annual grassroots events. The event, held in August, typically draws 20,000 fans on race day and features several NASCAR stars who either race or act as a team owner.

NASCAR does have a considerable presence in touring series around North America, and still sanctions the Whelen All-American Series, which targets local short-track racing. But as the sport has sought to arrest incremental declines in attendance and TV ratings, there’s been increasing calls to reconnect to a greater extent with grassroots racing, which some of the sport’s more critical observers accuse NASCAR of neglecting in favor of a more corporate atmosphere.

Knoxville Raceway holds one of the most prestigious annual grassroots events.
KNOXVILLE RACEWAY
Pat Warren, president of Kansas Speedway, said the track will have an activation area at this year’s 5-hour Nationals, and the two venues are looking into having Knoxville activate at Kansas’ NASCAR races. Kansas, which is owned by International Speedway Corp., will bring a track-branded show car, a registry to win tickets and activities like cornhole.

“They do a really good job connecting with grassroots racing fans, the interaction with drivers at the event is phenomenal, there’s a huge crossover between NASCAR drivers that participate and the people that are coming here … and they’re really good at youth from what we’ve seen at arm’s length,” Warren said of Knoxville. “We would never pretend that we know everything about promoting the sport. If somebody’s doing a good job, we want to learn from them, see how they’re bringing in people who we may not be bringing or bringing in well, and figure out if there’s something we can do to change our approach to bring more fans to the sport.”

Kendra Jacobs, marketing director at Knoxville, said she expects Iowa Speedway, which is owned by NASCAR and hosts annual Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series and Verizon IndyCar Series races, to also have an activation presence at the Knoxville Nationals this year. She said her track and Iowa recently met with a potential partner that “would see a crossover sponsorship and fan-focused initiative between the two tracks.” North Carolina-based Spire Sports & Entertainment runs marketing and communications for Knoxville.

Kevin Harvick is among the NASCAR drivers who have called for a greater grassroots push. He recently used his radio show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to call for the sport to revamp its schedule for the Camping World Truck Series so that the series races more at local short tracks. The Truck Series does host one annual race on dirt, at the Tony Stewart-owned Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

In one other recent nod to short tracks, Richmond International Raceway recently helped launch a website, RacingVirginia.com, that connects fans to more than 25 racing facilities throughout the commonwealth by providing a single digital destination for news, schedules and other content.

IndyCar also has heard calls to better connect with grassroots racing. In response, the open-wheel series sponsored multiple drivers at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl sprint car event earlier this year in Tulsa, Okla.