A Tale Of Two Earls And Others Just Like Them
Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports
BY STEW DOTY
A life-long race fan, Stew Doty is the Publisher of Racing Promotion Monthly, a monthly newsletter for auto racing promoters.
Many fans take racing for granted. We did when we were younger — and a fan. We went to the track, found a pit full of cars and what seemed to be a good crowd, turned our attention to our favorite drivers, and that was that. We gave the big picture no more thought. Like most fans, we just wanted to see good racing.
Now older and with business experience as well as the perspective of 17 years publishing Racing Promotion Monthly, we see a different picture — one that evokes admiration at every track we visit.
When a fan, we were unaware that just shy of 1,100 people are the stewards of the sport we enjoy — short-track racing. For readers who might not stop to wonder about such a thing — as we did not — that’s the approximate number of promoters, track owners and managers. In our huge country of nearly 300 million that encompasses most of a continent; in a sport that, by some estimates, counts more than a half million drivers — and easily quadruple that, if not more, crew members — a mere 1,100 souls hold our sport together. Without them, there is no short-track racing.
These promoters, track owners, and managers are remarkable people, and we have the privilege of serving them as editor of their trade publication. Doing so, we are acquainted with the lion’s share of promoters, a few nationally known, most known only locally. But, we do not score them based on fame. Only one promoter is a “star,” who fans ask for HIS autograph, and who had a bobblehead doll made in his likeness — the incomparable, recently retired Earl Baltes.
There is only one Earl Baltes, but there are about 1,099 Earls Benson. Who is this other Earl? Earl Benson is the opposite Earl of race promotion. Benson has owned and promoted his Watertown, S. D., track for 30 years. Watertown is not on the national TV weather map. Benson’s Casino Speedway is not well known outside South Dakota. Benson is not widely known outside his community, and that suits him just fine.
But, he is typical of the passionate people who hold the keys to our sport. Every Sunday — yes, Sunday night — Benson’s stands are full, or nearly so. His pits sometimes overflow onto a city street, and many a hot dog, walking taco, soda and the occasional beer is consumed by fans. By day, Benson is a building materials company executive.
By night, and on weekends, with his wife Sandy, whom he calls Chairman of the Board, he is a promoter.
While most of us can handle no more than two jobs — our day job and our families — Benson and other promoters like him, somehow handle promotion in addition to their normal jobs.
Both Earls — and other promoters — are (or in Baltes’s case, recently were) stewards of large parcels of property on which they pay taxes year around. They employ several dozen people, whom they pay, and pay taxes for. They promote events bringing significant economic impact to their communities. They do all this with revenue from as few as 16 business nights each year.
They also often find themselves going toe-to-toe with bureaucrats of every description, fighting for the right to continue in business, and to give racers a place to race, and fans a place to watch. Topping it all, they fight an unpredictable and confusing leisure-time market, with the limited resources available to a privately-owned, local retail business without taxpayer subsidy.
We race fans are in their debt for doing these things, and that’s why we appreciate this space graciously given by National Speed Sport News.
Next season, when you go to your local track, seek out the promoter, track owner, or manager. Shake his or her hand, and express your appreciation for what they do. Get to know him or her personally — as something more than the butt of criticism from some ill-mannered and clueless keyboard commando in a Web forum, or the subject of hearsay among drivers.
If you have ideas about how he or she might increase your satisfaction as a customer, share them. But more important, when you go out into the community, tell people how much you enjoy the races, and urge people to take in a race. Offer to take new people as your guest to next week’s races, or encourage them to sponsor racing with their businesses. Introduce your friends and neighbors to your Earl, without whom there would be no racing nearby.
(Original Print Date: November 28, 2007)