By Scot Harden
One of the upsides of the recent shutdown has been catching up on old movies and classics, especially with my three-year old grandson Jensen. Our viewing fare consists of just three films, Polar Express, ET, and Wizard of Oz. Load, Play, Repeat. The Polar Express addiction is fed by our mutual love of playing trainmaster with the Lionel Train set permanently erected in our front living room. Every visit to Grammy Bear and Papa’s house is a full-on O-Gauge reenactment of Polar Express down to all the characters, dialogue, and storyline from the movie. The other two movies on our list are American classics, one over 80 years old, a national film treasure, and I believe the first color film ever, the other a more recent classic told by our best modern film storyteller. Despite their widely different storylines, both share a common central theme, the longing for home, a sense of belonging, and connection to family, finding your place in the world. Home is a very special place, especially during trying times like the ones we currently face. All ET wanted was to “Phone Home” and as Dorothy so articulately, and in a remarkably prescient commentary of current times reminds us, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore!” If only we were Dorothy, if only we were……..Come to think of it I too prefer to be in Kansas right about now! Unfortunately, I live in California, and depending on which state you live in, you may be dealing with more trying business conditions than others, especially for those states adhering to stringent “shelter in place” restrictions and byzantine phased re-opening guidelines negatively impacting business and social activities.
The good news is that even in the most locked-down states, some signs of hope are emerging that the end may be in sight. There is other good news as well and anecdotal evidence that many Powersports businesses and dealerships have survived the last couple of months in reasonably good shape. For some retail activity including purchases of new motorcycles, UTVS and other Powersports vehicles and equipment have increased or at least held their own during the shutdown, a clear indication that consumers are not ready to give up their chosen hobbies and lifestyles. Last month I offered a variety of recommendations for restarting the economy, and in particular the Powersports industry, some of which I see are already being applied. One segment of our industry, an area some may say is at the heart of Powersports, is Racing. Many are of the opinion that things will not return to normal until racing events with spectators are finally back online, and I agree. Racing is an integral part of our sport and business. For American motorcyclists Supercross, Outdoor National Motocross, Moto America, and National Dirt Track are at one end of the spectrum, amateur weekend grassroots and local racing at the other. Every sanctioning body and promoter has gone through extraordinary measures to adapt and find ways to get back to racing and several are ready in the short term, Supercross a prime example, to go racing if only for TV audiences. And that’s ok; I’ll take that for now, but it doesn’t replace the full experience.
One area of racing that crosses over between professional and grassroots racing is off-road racing. If you want a real indication of how strong the underlying forces that support the Powersports business are look no further. This includes GNCC, WORCS, National Enduro, local motocross, various UTV series, and the big western off-road desert series like SCORE and Best In The Desert. As Marketing/Business Development Director for Best In The Desert, I have had a front-row seat watching this all play out over the last couple of months. Everything from having to postpone a major UTV/MC/Quad event in Laughlin, NV, just a few short days out from actually holding the event when Nevada shut down in late March to having to work through all the issues and what-ifs as far as re-opening and when. Recently Best In The Desert held a historic Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Facebook Live and invited all our racers, sponsors, media, fans, and volunteer staff to join us to hear about our plans for the remainder of the season. We wanted to share what we knew based on the best information at the time, knowing there would be some knowns and some unknowns as far as re-opening dates for the State of Nevada goes. The Virtual Town Hall was the first of its kind ever held in off-road racing and drew a huge audience. We shared our vision for the rest of the 2020 season and, more importantly, got feedback from the racing community on where they stood, where they were in terms of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their lives, finances, and ultimately racing plans. Since Best In The Desert caters to car, truck, UTV, motorcycle, and quad racers, we interact with a variety of off-road racing enthusiasts from very divergent socio-economic backgrounds. Large, well-funded, fully staffed, multimillion-dollar Trick Truck and off-road car teams to large professionally run UTV efforts with major sponsors behind them to weekend warriors, mom and pop efforts who represent the backbone of the sport. At the end of the Town Hall, we conducted a simple survey asking our racers a straightforward question: Are you ready to go racing?
The response was overwhelming. Not only did we receive far more responses than we imagined, 95% of all respondents were very emphatic, they wanted to race, and just wanted to know where and when. Over and over again, we heard how much racing meant to our customers and just how much they wanted to get some normalcy back in their lives. In other words, racing is a conduit to what feels normal to an awful lot of people; it’s their quickest way to go home again. Faster than clicking their heels and repeating three times,” there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home."
Of course, we know that special precautions are necessary, and getting back to racing will require new protocols to meet social distancing directives and to comply with state mandates. Fortunately, for the type of racing Best In The Desert does social distancing is part of the attraction. Getting out there in the great outdoors and experiencing the vastness and openness of the State of Nevada and Arizona, where we hold the races, is a big part of the appeal. Nonetheless, we are taking extra measures to make sure we set an excellent example for all racing and we are sure many of these same protocols can be applied to other racing organizations. For example:
Registration will all be done online with all releases and final entry forms signed off on and completed before the start of the race eliminating the need for racers to cue up and register at the event.
Driver’s/Rider’s meetings will be held virtually on Facebook Live. This eliminates the need for gathering together in large groups; it gives the organization a recorded driver’s meeting that racers can refer to later.
Our pre-race activities, including our Event Expo, and sponsor displays usually held at a major hotel in Las Vegas, requires that we space out vendors adequately so as not to create congestion in the host hotel parking lot.
As a racing organization, we will be setting a great example using facemasks to the extent we are having special Best In The Desert branded facemasks made just for the event. We even plan to have some fun with them by implementing our famous founder, Casey Folks, call to action “Booyah!” on each mask. Also, our fuel partners at VP Racing will provide their new special hand sanitizer dispensers at each vending location.
Trophy presentations will take place on the Ford Mesa at the finish line immediately after the finish. No need to get together in large auditoriums.
Pit crews will be required to set up special six-foot buffer zones between each pit, and the distance will be closely monitored.
These are just a few of the changes we are making to ensure we set an excellent example for racing. As one of the first major organizations, not to mention the largest off-road desert series in the nation to host a race in this new reality, we know we are being watched and therefore are making every effort to set a great example. Other race sanctioning bodies and promoters are making adjustments of their own. Ultimately, we need to get back to packed stadiums and race venues full of excited fans. How soon we get there will largely be based on what we do now. Regardless of the racing format, types of Powersports vehicles involved, geographic location, or people involved, the sooner we get back to racing, the better for all of us. Our nation has a competitive fire that runs deep. Racing is a great way for all of us to honor that truth! It’s also a great way to get our business back on track. I’m all for clicking my heels right now and wishing I could go “home” to the good old days before the COVID mess. Instead, I think I’ll dig deep and find a way to get back there on my own. I encourage everyone else to do the same.