Luxemburg Speedway’s new promoter discusses plans to succeed
LUXEMBURG – The new promoter at Luxemburg Speedway is new to the job in more ways than one.
Ashley Stevens is owner and president of Skyhigh Entertainment, LLC, which signed a contract with Kewaunee County and its Promotion and Recreation Department to promote weekly stock car racing at the third-mile clay oval on the county fairgrounds. The County Board approved the contract at its Jan. 22 meeting.
Stevens is an independent, over-the-road truck owner-operator from Kiel. He's never been a promoter — he said he formed Skyhigh Entertainment as an LLC specifically to promote racing at Luxemburg and is approaching this venture as a business. Working with Stevens in Skyhigh are his daughter, Hope Romportl, and her fiance, Branden Goeser, who races in the 4-cylinder class at 141 Speedway, Shawano Speedway and other dirt tracks in the area.
Stevens' business experiences include working on a dairy farm, managing a restaurant and as a real estate broker, along with trucking.
As for motorsports, Sevens said he raced a little in his younger days at 141 Speedway in Maribel and the now-defunct Manitowoc County Expo Speedway. In recent years, most tracks have contracted with promoters who've raced regularly, and usually at those tracks.
So why get into race promotion? Especially at a track with which he's not familiar, and at a time when short tracks not just in Northeast Wisconsin but throughout the country are struggling?
Put simply, Stevens is a longtime racing fan.
"Where I grew up, our farm abutted 141 Speedway," Stevens said in a phone interview from North Carolina, where he was on the job. "So in my childhood, I spent every weekend there … I guess the biggest thing is just a love of racing. Growing up by 141, there's all these memories of when the family gets together, that's one of the things that always comes up."
Stevens said he'd previously considered bidding to promote the dirt track in Oshkosh at Winnebago County's Sunnyview Expo Center but "just didn't think it was a very good venue to pursue" — as things turned out, the county closed the track after the 2017 season to make room for a new, permanent concert stage for the Lifest Christian music festival.
The opportunity to take charge of the Luxemburg track came after no one submitted a bid to the county for the 2019 season before deadline. Stevens heard about that and decided to jump in after talking with Eric Mahlik and Ron Cochrane, who promoted the track the past three seasons.
"We contacted the old promoters, and they were very instrumental in helping us get started," Stevens said.
The contract, which Promotion and Recreation Department Director David Myers said is very similar to contracts with the speedway's previous promoters, calls for the promoter to rent the track and associated facilities for $1,500 per race. As in past seasons, races will take place Friday nights, this year from May 3 to Sept. 6 along with the Sept. 13 to 14 special show, except during the Kewaunee County Fair and Ag Heritage Days, both of which are held at the fairgrounds.
Plans call for the weekly schedule to feature familiar car classes at Luxemburg: Modifieds, SportMods, stock cars, street stocks, Grand National Sportmen and 4-cylinders. Classes will run under International Motor Contest Association rules, and Stevens said he hopes to gain IMCA sanctioning, which the track has had before and would allow racers to earn points toward IMCA's national standings.
Stevens also will bring in the Dirt Kings Late Model Tour to join most of his regular classes for a "Thunder By the Bay" show Aug. 9 and is working to bring open-wheel cars to the track with the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association.
New-school amenities, old-school promotion
But no matter what kinds of race cars Stevens and Skyhigh bring to Luxemburg, what matters is bringing fans there. To that end, Stevens is aiming for a mix of new-school amenities and old-school promotion.
He said he wants to "take the track into the 21st century" with upgrades that include improved food and concessions — "Most tracks I've been at, the food sucks … I'm gonna try pretty much cook-to-order," he said — and video screens under the stands so people at the concessions don't miss on-track action. A winner's circle video screen that can show sponsor advertisements also is possible.
As for actual promotion, Stevens said it's about finding effective ways to get out the word about the track. He cited an experience at a fast-food restaurant just south of Green Bay, where he was chatting with a 20-something employee who was a fan of racing at 141 but didn't know Luxemburg had a track with weekly shows.
"He's, what, 15 minutes away from Luxemburg and doesn't even know they have a race track?" Stevens said. "That's just a lack of advertising."
Stevens said he's not going to lean solely on social media to advertise the track as some have done, hoping instead to blend that with traditional methods such as billboards — although some of those may be the electronic kind — and print, radio and TV ads.
Plus, word of mouth. Stevens hopes that by providing a positive experience to fans, they'll tell friends and family and bring them to the track. Besides better food, he'll also implement season passes with reserved seats and work on other events or promotions to generate general interest from the community.
"There's a lot of little things I'm gonna do to get the community involved," he said. "The community owns the track, not us
He also expects the racers themselves to tell non-racers about what's happening at the speedway, noting another experience of a former co-worker who never told Stevens that he raced on the local tracks.
"I worked with this guy for 10 years and never knew he raced," Stevens said. "Well, why wouldn't you tell people that you race? That's where drivers can be a little more proactive."
More than just the races
Stevens is searching for sponsors, hoping to land larger ones to cover each car class for the season as well as weekly advertisers. He added that he'll seek sponsors outside the usual realm.
"They say what's killing short tracks is they're all going after the same advertisers consistently," he said. "And you can't do that; they're only gonna spend so much money. So (our) platform is going after sponsors who haven't tried it before."
He's also hoping to offer special attractions at the races besides the racing. Among the ideas on which he said he's working are off-track appearances by a monster truck and members of the popular "Street Outlaws" street racing TV series on Discovery Channel and appearances by area sports stars and celebrities, and having two teams of L-C football players race each other by pulling a rope attached to a race car.
Stevens also mentioned possibly holding a "driving experience" for spectators, where they'd be able to get into a street stock racer and take to the oval.
"I look at the philosophy of the definition of 'insanity,' where they say it's doing the same thing over and over and expecting something different," he said. "Tracks have to find creative ways to get people there.
"I'm pretty much trying to have something unique every night, so it's not just about the racing. It's just trying to spark some interest from people who haven't been there, maybe haven't been there in years … If I've got 30 players on the football team coming to pull race cars, their parents are going to be there, other kids are going to be there."
While this is Stevens' first venture into motorsports promotion, he's confident Skyhigh can succeed. He noted that along with his own successful careers, he's working with people who have been there before. Plus, he said he knows a number of successful business and show people around the country who can, and do, give him outside-the-racing-box ideas and advice.
"Any business is a challenge," he said. "But you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. We've got a lot of people on board who have a lot of experience racing, who bring a lot of resources … I think it's no different than going into any business. There's always that fear of failure, but I think that excites you to do better."
And given the track's proximity to the Green Bay area and Door County, Stevens believes there's no reason it can't succeed. He plans to be ready to impress race fans right from the May 3 opener.
"It's gonna take people coming on Friday nights, the weather cooperating, basically just the support of the community, advertisers and drivers," he said. "There's so many segments, a combination of a lot of different things to make a race track succeed. You should be able to pack the grandstand on a weekly basis, not just for the special shows.
"I understand first impressions mean everything, so we wanna make an impact right off the bat … You've gotta kinda target people and get 'em there once. And once you do that, I think they'll come back."
Luxemburg Speedway promoter Skyhigh Entertainment, LLC, will be represented at the fourth annual Luxemburg Racing Show, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 in the Expo Center at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 Third St. Admission is $4 for ages 13 and older. For more on the track, visit the "Luxemburg Speedway" Facebook page or email [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Luxemburg Speedway's new promoter discusses plans to succeed