Luxemburg Speedway a ‘struggle’ for first-time promoter, but he’s hopeful for 2020 season
LUXEMBURG – Ashley Stevens admits his first year as a race track promoter has "definitely been a learning experience … a struggle." However, he hopes to be able to put lessons learned to good use next year.
With a month to go in the 2019 season at Luxemburg Speedway, Stevens said the track hasn't drawn the attendance or sponsors he hoped to draw when he formed Skyhigh Entertainment LLC and took the reins of the track in late January.
The independent, over-the-road trucker from Kiel was basically a big motorsports fan who had never been a racing promoter before he and his team at Skyhigh were approved by the Kewaunee County Board to run the Friday night shows on the third-mile dirt track at the county fairgrounds. Skyhigh was the only last-minute bidder after the previous deadline to apply passed without one.
The season started May 3, giving Stevens and his crew less than four months to get ready for their debut.
Things haven't gone as hoped for the most part but, despite the difficulties, Stevens remains optimistic as his first season as a promoter heads into the home stretch.
"We're not giving up, far from it. We're staying in it, looking toward next year," Stevens said. "The drivers have been awesome, the fans have been awesome. No one wants to see the track close. We're in this for the long haul."
Attendance figures are Stevens' main concern. He didn't have exact numbers on hand during his interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin — he was on the road in North Carolina — but said he thought the weekly average was "probably 250 to 300. That's far short of what you need to run a race track."
After regularly average attendance of more than 1,000 a week through 2012, the number has been between 516 and 837 in the years since, except 2016 when it hit 1,207, according to the county.
Car counts — the number of racers each week — also are down. After averaging more than 100 each of the last three years, Stevens said the track is averaging about 60 a week this year with a high of 89. Those numbers also matter to the bottom line because racers pay entry fees and for pit passes for crew members.
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Stevens said before the season, he was planning several different advertising ideas and promotions to get the word out and attract fans. The track has held vendor and craft nights and prize drawings on racing nights, and this month it's holding drawings for ticket holders for a $500 cash prize on Aug. 9, 16 and 23.
This comes at a time when many tracks that run weekly programs for local fans are struggling to find spectators, especially younger ones, and not just in Wisconsin but around the country.
"It's been tough," Stevens said. "One of the biggest problems has been getting people in the grandstands. I don't know if it's people are changing, if it's the generation gap. We've done a lot of advertising with radio stations trying to get the word out, but it's been a struggle … If I knew the answer to why, I'd fix it."
Sunday night lights?
Part of the problem might be competition for the racers' and racing fans' attention in the area. Luxemburg has held its races on Friday nights for years, but this summer it's one of three tracks holding regular shows that night, joined by Gravity Park USA in Chilton —which opened its oval track in 2018 — and Outagamie Speedway in Seymour, which switched its longstanding Sunday programs to Fridays this season.
While Fridays and Saturdays find no lack of racing on the local tracks — Saturday programs are held weekly at 141 Speedway in Francis Creek and Shawano Speedway, and The Hill Raceway in Sturgeon Bay holds semi-regular shows that night — Sundays are wide open because of Outagamie's move.
That prompted Luxemburg Speedway to put up a post on its Facebook page about two weeks ago, followed by a poll, asking if fans and racers would support a move to Sunday racing. Responses have been overwhelmingly positive, with 83 percent of nearly 1,000 respondents voting in favor on the poll.
However, Stevens said a change in days isn't likely, or at least would have several hoops through which to jump. Besides requiring approval from various levels of county government, the county's 4-H program holds some Sunday events at the fairgrounds.
Plus, the track is next to a residential neighborhood. Those who've replied negatively to the track's Facebook posts about a possible move wrote that they're not against the track running Friday nights but would be concerned about noise from the track on Sunday nights, when people have to go to work Monday mornings. Stevens said he doesn't want to alienate those neighbors.
"We'd have to go through so much to go onto Sundays," Stevens said. "There's the County Board, the Fair Board, the 4-H, also the Village of Luxemburg … A lot of people have to get up early to go to work on Monday. That's where I think we'd run into our biggest problem."
David Myers, director of the county's Parks, Promotion and Maintenance Department, said Stevens and Skyhigh have not approached him about moving to Sundays. He said if they choose that route, they'd go to the County Board for approval.
Myers added that he didn't know how a move would affect the 4-H and other youth groups that hold weekend events at the fairgrounds. He said those usually wrap up by mid-afternoon, so it would depend on the start time for the races.
"I honestly don't know if there'd be any blowback at all," Myers said. "If it's changed, it would be discussed with the other youth groups."
Stevens added that he wasn't sure how much the Friday competition affected car and spectator turnout in Luxemburg. Racers and fans in the metro Green Bay area reasonably can make the 20- or 30-minute trip to either to Luxemburg or Seymour, for example, and Gravity Park is about an hour away. Stevens said he's talked with the Outagamie promoters about working on some sort of cooperative efforts or joint events for 2020.
After Skyhigh was named promoter at Luxemburg, Stevens told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin he'd seek sponsors to back both the overall racing programs and each of the five classes of cars, possibly going outside the realm of usual racing sponsors. Local tracks generally need sponsors to help them pay the racers and cover expenses.
The track has been able to find sponsors for the weekly shows, but the only class with a season-long sponsor is the top class, the IMCA Modifieds, backed by Village Kitchen.
Stevens said part of the problem is the late start he had, because many businesses lay out their plans for the year's expenses, including advertising and sponsorship, in the fall of the year before, at least four or five months before Skyhigh took charge of the track.
"We were kinda late to the ball game because most (potential sponsors) had already allocated their funds for next year," he said.
Stevens told the drivers and teams before the season he wanted to pay them larger purses than they were getting before. The lack of fans and sponsors led Stevens to scale those back, although Myers said the track has kept up on the $1,500 weekly rent in its contract with Skyhigh.
"I did try to increase payoffs (to the racers), but I had to renegotiate some of that," Stevens said.
The speedway also canceled an Aug. 9, $10,000-to-win appearance by the Dirt Kings Late Model Tour, a 13-race series featuring the state's top late model dirt-track stock car drivers. However, the June 4 visit by the open-wheel cars of the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association went off as scheduled and was a huge success, Stevens said.
One more large program is planned to close the season, which Stevens said he thinks will attract more fans: the annual two-day Fall Special on Sept. 13 and 14, with a recently announced Trailer Race of Destruction joining races for the track's five regular classes.
Stevens said he's working on the track's future and hoping the newly developed relationships and hard lessons of 2019 will help turn things around in 2020. He's hoping to bring back the Badger Midgets for at least one program as well as flat-track motorcycle racers, who he said recently held a successful test at the track.
"I foresee next year being a really good year for us," Stevens said. "For being unknown in the racing community, I think we stepped up this year, made believers of some people … I think we made a lot of good relationships this year … We've got some business people in Luxemburg working with us, trying to get other business people in Luxemburg involved.
"We've got a lot of good people surrounding us," Stevens said. "We're not gonna let them down and they're not gonna let us down. We want the drivers involved, we want the fans involved. It's their track, not ours … I'm just trying to put the pieces together."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Luxemburg Speedway a 'struggle' for first-time promoter, but he's hopeful for 2020 season