Piston-powered sports grow as tourism events

Off-road racing may never overtake classic cars in northern Nevada’s special events lineup, but dirt-track racing is adding to the region’s growing slate of motor sports events.

The Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series swings to Reno this weekend at the Wild West Motorsports Park at Mustang. The park developed by Norm Dianda at the site of an old landfill hosted its first event in 2012. Last year, 6,500 race fans attended the event on Saturday, with another 6,200 attending on Sunday. Approximately 1,500 fans came from out of town and paid for 740 rooms at the Silver Legacy.

Race organizers enacted several changes for the upcoming race in an effort to boost attendance at the short-course dirt track, which can accommodate up to 10,000 people. Specifically, ticket prices were cut 33 percent to $20 a day, and kids 12 and under are free. Organizers also have been out in the community the past few months to drum up community interest in the race, something that was lacking for the inaugural event.

“Last year this time last we were still building the track,” said Wild West Motorsports Park General Manager Kevin Singleton. “We didn’t break ground until June 1, so we had just two months to build the track and we moved a massive amount of dirt to do it and build all the infrastructure. Promoting the race happened pretty late and was pretty limited.”

Singleton said the race has been promoted on social media sites as well as on billboards in northern Nevada and the Roseville-Sacramento region. Organizers also placed ads on pre-movie commercials at select Century Theaters. Both racing events lag far behind northern Nevada’s most prominent motor sports events — Hot August Nights and the National Championship Air Races — but they are becoming an integral part of the special event season.

Combined with well-established events such as the Virginia City Grand Prix motorcycle race, Sprint Car racing at Reno Tahoe Fernley Speedway and Street Vibrations, piston-powered sports are a crucial marketing tool for the region, said Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority and a self-admitted “gear head.” The RSCVA combined those events and several others into a “Motor Madness” theme launched at the beginning of 2013 to cross-market the events and increase fan turnout and participation.

“As a gear head myself, we have great lineup of all types of piston-powered events,” Baum said. “We have motorcycles, airplanes, hot rods and muscle cars.”

Cross-marketing the events is a no-brainer, Baum said, since thousands of people attending one motorsports event most likely would enjoy the other events.

“It is a great way to take an audience that is predisposed toward motorsports and racing and turn them into a customer for other events,” he said.

Singleton of Wild West Motorsports Park said he and racetrack owner Dianda sat down soon after dust settled from the 2012 event to discuss ways to boost attendance for the upcoming race weekend as well as improve the fan experience.

The ticketing and will call areas have been modified to improve traffic flow, Singleton says. Pinnocchios will run the food served at the event. Shaving $10 off ticket prices should help the track realize 10,000 race fans each day, Singleton says. Racing starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Races last about three-and-a-half hours.

Perhaps the biggest benefit from the Lucas racing series is that races are nationally televised.

“It gets a lot of first-run programming on CBS Sports, Speed TV and MavTV, which is carried on Direct and Time Warner,” Singleton said. “It gives a lot of national exposure to Reno.”


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