The Need for Speed; taking it to the track
June 30, 2003
Filed under Features
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles devoted to the growing trend of sponsored “track days,” events where motorcyclists get a chance to ride on a racetrack. The next article will explore manufacturers involvement in this latest sportbike craze.
According to Monte Lutz, co-owner of Sportbike Track Time (STT), the year 2001 marked the first time when more motorcycles were on racetracks for recreation than for competition.
“And that trend is not eroding at all, but is continuing to grow,” Lutz says. “It’s becoming the wave of the future.”
With modern motorcycles reaching 60 mph in under three seconds and top speeds in excess of 160 mph, public streets may not be the best location to test rider ability or a bike’s performance. Today, there are more than 20 organizations offering track time at 42 venues across the country.
STT, based in Toledo, Ohio, is one such organization.
Lutz, a 30-year motorcycle veteran who co-owns STT with his wife, Bonnie Strawser, says he founded the organization as a way for people to actually use a high-performance street bike in a safe environment.
“I used to do very spirited street riding with a group of friends. We got back from a ride that was fast and dangerous, and I thought, ‘This isn’t going to continue without somebody getting seriously hurt or worse.’ It was then that a friend of mine suggested we go rent a racetrack. I looked into it, found out what we had to do, and had a little, private event with 15 people.
“It was in a controlled environment, we provided all of our own corner workers, but there was nothing professional about it. We were just a group of guys on a track having fun.”
That was at Grattan Raceway in 1996. Lutz says idea to fruition was only a matter of a few months.
A day at the track usually starts around 7am, with registration and tech inspections, a track walk and riders meeting. Then comes the first track session, a lunch break, and an afternoon’s worth of riding.
Doug Booth started holding track days with a business partner in 1987. Based in Salem, Mass., his organization, TrackDay.com, is a part of Web Works Development and Hosting Services, a designer of Web sites for small businesses, including powersports retailers.
“TrackDay.com, as a Web site, started out as a way to promote the track days we do in New Hampshire. But, because it was such a great domain name, we opened it up and started listing schedules from all across the country,” says Booth, who also works as a rep for Suomy. “Our goal at TrackDay.com is to make it easy for track day promoters to advertise and market their events and easy for motorcyclists to find events at racetracks in their area.”
Booth says his organization will hold 12 events at New Hampshire International Speedway this year, including track days held in conjunction with area dealerships. He says the events allow riders to hone their skills and, to an extent, serve to continue interest in the sport.
“The old adage, ‘If you can give your customer something to do with a motorcycle, they will remain your customer for a long time’, really plays out,” Booth says, explaining that 50% to 60% of the track dates in the New England area are sponsored by dealerships. “The dealers up here are pretty active with it because they know it’s great for their customers. It’s great for word-of-mouth advertising or marketing.”
Since track day riders need the appropriate parts and accessories to pass a technical inspection, many of the dealerships involved tend to hold open houses where participants stop for pre-inspection and purchase parts — tires, brake pads, helmets, gloves, etc. — deemed necessary to pass the official technical inspection.
“There’s always an A Group of customers — guys who buy things from you and who are good service customers. What track day does is take B Group customers, those who typically shop for things elsewhere, and turns them into A Group customers because of the camaraderie and the fun that they have at these events,” Booth says.
“Cruiser dealers have poker runs and a lot of off-road dealers sponsor motocross racers; but, until now, there’s really been nothing for retailers of sportbikes to offer their customers,” STT’s Lutz said. “So, why not hold a track day?”
WHAT IT TAKES
Lutz says STT’s rider demographics are decidedly male — 85% to 90% — and says the average rider age falls in the early 30s.
As for rider costs, STT is a membership-based organization, so a $25 annual membership fee is required. The price tag for getting on-track depends on the rental cost of the venue, but Lutz says a one day session goes from a high of $195 at Mid-Ohio to a low of $135 at VIR. To attract more participants of the fairer sex, STT charges women a flat rate of $75 at any venue.
The annual membership fee gets a rider a membership card, a STT T-shirt and various other discounts and services, waived membership fee at specified events held by other organizations, track side technical assistance, track side tire changing service, specialized instruction to all novice riders and upon request to intermediate and advanced riders, and discounts at specified hotels/motels close to the tracks.
STT must pay for track use as much as six months in advance, and insurance coverage gauges the organization’s bank account for about $45,000 each season. “This is a very cash-flow intensive business,” Lutz says. “We put a minimum of $50,000 in track deposits out every year before a single dime comes in.” Total expenses, he says, take about 78% of gross sales.
Lutz sells tires and gear to add some supplemental income, and he says a deal with Aprilia helps, too. The business has been successful enough for 42-year-old Strawser to retire last year and devote all of her time to the organization.
STT has a sister company on the West Coast called Pacific Track Time (PacTT), and the only states the organizations don’t operate in are the Plains states, like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.
Other track day sponsors include, but are not limited to, Team Pro-Motion, Philadelphia, Pa.; Pacific Super Sport Riders, Portland, Ore.; Edge Performance Riding Courses, Inc., Chanhassen, Minn.; FASTTRAX Motorcycle Performance, Inc., North Canton, Ohio; Lone Star Track Days, Houston, Texas; PCS Daytona, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Team Arizona, Gilbert, Ariz.; and Fastrack Riders Track Days, Whittier, Calif. For more information about track day opportunities, visit www.TrackDay.com.