8 Rounds for $800
Racing has come a long way. There have been advancements in cars, in drivers, in tracks, and in timing systems. The payouts have been going up, as have the entry fees. Participation has not increased across the board, however. In order for track operators to pay out more money with the same or a fewer number of cars, something had to be done. The money has to come from somewhere. The tracks obviously do not want to cut into their already small net proceeds, and sponsors are few and far between. The racers have to ante up.
While it is hard to say where buybacks first originated, most point to Royce Miller. Miller claimed a storied career as a racer, and became a successful promoter, before eventually buying Maryland International Raceway (MIR), in Budds Creek, Md. He runs MIR today with his family, but it was in his early days as a promoter with Terry Sinke at Tri-State Dragway that buybacks were born.
Re-Entry: This is the proper name for Miller’s creation, and the name still in use at MIR. When a driver loses in the first round, he or she can pay a fee (usually half of, or a little more than half of the original entry fee), and compete in a separate round of eliminations against other re-entries. Winners of the re-entry round advance to the second round of eliminations.
Points: While in most cases, a driver stops earning points as soon as he loses a round, and is then only in the race for the money, some promoters see points as just the carrot they needed to further entice drivers to ease up the hold on their wallets. Some tracks offer points for every round won, regardless of buybacks.
”Beaver Bob” McCardle, owner/operator of Beaver Springs Dragway, a small IHRA facility located in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains noticed. Beaver Springs is not easy to find compared to the major highway locations of the supertracks, and it is not surrounded by any great population density, so race programs have to be effective. It has seen its share of ups and downs since its inception in 1971, all with Beaver Bob at the helm. That means this 2003 IHRA Track Operator of the Year has plenty of experience.
“Buybacks make the show run longer,” he continued. “Our program runs really smooth now without it. Try going home and telling your wife that you lost first round, but you bought back, and lost again. That’s right, she’s at home, isn’t she? She used to come with you. Buybacks make people lose camaraderie. Everybody these days is so set on winning that we forgot how to have fun. It’s all a numbers game to them. We’ve got families that come to the Beaver.
Saving Bracket Racing With Buybacks
What has happened in ten or fifteen years of buybacks? Car counts are low at many tracks, which forced tracks into one and then two rounds of buybacks. But is it cause and effect, or is the effect the cause? Could buybacks have created the situation we’re in now, instead of saving the sport? Perhaps bracket racing could actually be better served by going to a No Buybacks program!
Please note that there are no doubt many successful tracks throughout the country, and these generalizations may not apply to all of them. It does attempt to illuminate the state of facilities who fall into the “high-track, low-population” areas.
Who is competing at today’s bracket tracks? When car counts dwindled, typically the more successful racers are the ones that stuck around. These are the guys that could afford to buyback, as they could be reasonably certain that they would end up making up their investment by the end of the day. Who’s missing? The entry level racer, and the part-time racer. The trick is to get part-time racers to become weekly racers, and to find new blood.
In today’s two-buyback world, some events may require up to a $40 entry fee to compete for an $800 to $1,000 first prize. This doesn’t sound like a bad investment at first, but when a racer makes it to the fourth round of eliminations and gets only half of his entry fee back, or perhaps nothing at all, the investment doesn’t look so good. Now, if the racer had to buy back, that’s a $60 investment in entry fees (let alone the travel expenses). That means he has to make it to the sixth round just to get his entry fee back.
This may not be an issue to the hitters. They think they are going to win, and they are probably right, more often than not. The people it affects are those who are no longer attending bracket races on a regular basis. For those less experienced, making it to the fifth or sixth round with any frequency is realistically more of a dream than a reality… and thus an expensive dream.
Beaver Bob learned that in order to bolster his bottom line, he needed to get more cars through the gate. He earns those cars by putting money back into the hands of racers earlier in the event. At Beaver Springs, racers earn round money equal to their entry fee, starting with second round winners. While his Box and No-Box classes pay just $600 to the winner, a King of the Hill style bonus race for the winners of Top, Mod, Bike, and Street reward racers with additional $400 to win, $100 runner-up, and $50 to the other two entries. This essentially lets racers run for the same $1,000 to win, but limits the track’s biggest financial outlay to just one class per week instead of all four.
For those tracks that still wish to pay the premium dollar to their weekly bracket racers, there’s still a way to do it without buybacks. By raising the entry fee $10, the track can eliminate buybacks completely, and still make the same amount of money. It also allows racers to starting earning round money after winning just two rounds, AND the winner can pick up his big check after only SIX rounds instead of eight.
Racers freely admit that they feel they have a better chance at winning a race if buybacks are offered. Because the race is often extended two rounds, however, their odds are actually worse! Besides just having to win more rounds to earn the same top prize, the field of competition will be tougher, because the hitters who may have made a mistake and lost in the early rounds are back in the game.
Here’s a comparison chart detailing a typical field for one class, in both Buyback and No Buyback race setups:
Despite the No-Buyback race paying out two semifinalists instead of just one, the track’s net income is the same. The winner’s take is the same, as is the runner-up. Instead of having to go five or even six rounds to get his entry fee back, a driver now only has to make it to the fourth round to reap the lion’s share of his investment. Most importantly, though, the average racer gets some pocket change for winning two rounds, as opposed to three rounds. By making it easier for the average racer to get a return on investment as opposed to necessarily the hitters, maybe that racer will want to (and be able to) come back for next week’s race.
If all the numbers make your head reel, think of a No-Buyback race as a Buybacks race with a $10 higher entry fee, but you get free first and second round buybacks! It’s common to hear things like, “The race doesn’t start until third round” or “The first two rounds are just qualifying”. Because of tight time schedules, many tracks that use buybacks only offer one or two time trials. Experienced racers don’t need more than one time trial, especially when buybacks are available. For those still learning however, time trials at a buyback event just got expensive!
The track can actually make more money by offering an 80% payback second chance race to those who have lost in the first or second round. This gives both the racer and the track another chance at making a buck, while not interfering with the main event. It’s more seat time for the racer. Even with this extra “class”, because there are no buybacks, the entire event can actually be completed in less in less time!
Just roughly: A buyback race with 50 cars in Mod, assuming a bunch of buybacks like we did for the payout example would be roughly 91 pairs down the track. Assuming we had three classes at 50 cars each, you'd have 273 pairs run down the track.
So how does a given racer fare over the course of an entire season? The following example uses an actual racer’s season statistics. This racer was a series champion, so it would stand to reason that this guy makes out far better than most…
Total Runs: 157
Buybacks seemed like a good idea for awhile, didn’t they? The example shows that even though the No-Buyback program is directed at bringing out the newbie and average racer more often by getting some money back into their hands, it turns out to be extremely beneficial for the hitter as well!
For both tracks and racers: Study your programs well, and consider the long-term effects of your decisions, not just the short term gain that seems so enticing. It might not be all that it seems.
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