By Kevin Wilson
I’m sure everyone has seen the latest Geico Insurance commercial that features legendary country fiddler Charlie Daniels. A “Twilight Zone,” Rod Serling wannabe narrates something about Geico having cheap rates, and goes into “Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?”
The camera then cuts to Charlie wailing away on a violin, broken bowstrings and all, at what looks to be a concert stage. As the camera pans out, he’s actually at a quiet table at a swanky restaurant while the restaurant violinist stands agasp. When Daniels finishes his performance, he utters the punch line: “That’s how you do it, son.” He then hands the fiddle back to the violinist and walks off, stealing a piece of bread off someone’s table on the way out. Classic.
So what does Charlie Daniels have to do with a diesel magazine, other than the fact a good majority of our readers actually know who he is? The punch line of the commercial is the title of this month’s rambling. Having just returned from NHRDA’s season opener here in the Phoenix area, the Desert Diesel Nationals, that punch line was the first thing I thought of on the way home. Following two years of dismal attendance and more trucks in the parking lot than on the track, the NHRDA hit one out of the park this year, filling the stands with spectators and turning what would normally be a regional diesel event into what could be a season opening national happening.
Now, before I get any nasty-grams from NADM’s Ron Knoch, (after all <Diesel World> is the “official magazine” of the NADM), let me explain my position on this. Based on the number of diesel events I’ve been to over the past three years, I can count on one hand the number of what I would call “national caliber” events. By national caliber, I mean a full field of competitors, and more importantly, grandstands full of spectators. In good company is the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, Cummins Diesels on the Mountain, TS Performance’s Outlaw Event, and at one time, the Indy Nats held at IRP.
In the case of the Desert Diesel Nationals, NHRDA’s Randy Cole recognized the potential of a Western National diesel event and launched his series opener here two years ago. Based on the event’s history, this year he opted to pull out marketing genius, handing our 25,000 “free” admission tickets all across town. Those who had them still had to pay $5 to park, but the strategy filled the facility. At one point, the line to get in stretched over a mile outside of the track and onto the main highway.
Based on previous attendance figures, everyone was pleasantly surprised, especially Speedworld track manager Bernie Longjohn. Bernie and I have a lot of years of history together since he was the track manager at Los Angeles County Raceway, where all us magazine types brought out road test trucks to thrash on the quarter-mile. According to Bernie, the move not only filled the stands and mades both the sponsors and promoters happy, it also upped sales of souvenirs, drinks, food and other things that are the lifeblood of an event. “It puts butts in the seats and that makes everyone happy.”
I have to agree. As for the “free” ticket deal, making 50 percent of something is better than making 100 percent of nothing. Everyone left the event feeling warm and fuzzy about things, and thousands of folks got to see diesel motorsports as an entertainment venue for the first time. I’ll bet they’ll be back next year, and won’t have a problem paying full pop. NHRDA claims they’ll be doing the same thing at their events in Texas and Indy this year, in an attempt to get more people involved.
I’ve taken a few lumps over the years for calling things as I see them, and I don’t suspect that’s going to change any time soon. Here’s the deal. Kudos to NDRDA for some marketing genius to introduce people to the sport of diesel motorsports. On the other hand, I’ve previously stated on multiple occasions the diesel market is too small to be “fragmented” by several promoters and organizations, although it looks like we’re down to the strongest two at this point.
As I’ve stated before, our industry needs to unite behind ONE national diesel motorsports organization to move forward into the main steam entertainment market on the scale of entry divisions in NASCAR or IHRA or NHRA. The lessons learned from the Desert Diesel Nationals should help both organization bring the diesel cause forward to the general publics, and maybe next year, they can unite and move diesel motorsports into the mainstream. I’m not holding my breath.