Matt Erickson gets toasted for his victory Sunday in the RPM Mortgage Pro Late Model division at the Madera Speedway. Viewers around the world will get to see Erickson's victory in June on MAVTV. Photo courtesy of Jason Wedehase.

published on April 20, 2018 - 12:07 PM
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On Sunday, 39 drivers in two divisions lined up for 80 laps in one of the only short-track raceways televising events across the nation.

It was the Madera Speedway’s second race this year in the RPM Mortgage Pro Late-Model Series division and 51FIFTY Junior Late-Model Series Division Race.

The Bay Area’s RPM Mortgage and 51FIFTY energy drinks in Merced County are just some of the fruits of a new marketing push to draw sponsors from across the state. The fact that races are televised is a key part of the raceway’s pitch to businesses.

“We’ve really tried to capture everything that makes the Valley special and then broadcast that worldwide,” said Steven Blakesley, director of communications at the Madera Speedway.

Former racer and owner of Shortrack Management Kenny Shepherd leased the speedway at the Madera Fairgrounds from the state in 2007 after seeing other racetracks across the state fold. Now, the racetrack is selling out hotels in Madera for events and attracting sponsors from all over the state.

Shepherd pitched to the motorsports channel MAVTV the idea of broadcasting races to fans. MAVTV broadcasts on DirecTV Channel 214 and Verizon FiOS Channel 810.

In 2014, Shepherd invested his own money for the cameras and a timeslot on Tuesdays at noon — one of the least popular timeslots on the racing channel. But now, the company has 22 cameras and 16 staff broadcasting “Madera Racing on MAVTV” on Thursdays at 8 p.m.— a very highly sought-after piece of television real estate.

“Our show is so popular now we’ve held that timeslot for three consecutive seasons,” Shepherd said.

In the racing world, the races are about the equivalent of Single-A baseball, but part of what makes the show so popular is the talent. It draws racers from North Carolina, New Hampshire, Canada and all over to compete on the 1/3-mile track.

Shepherd was able to bring in more diverse talent by cutting down on cost for drivers, namely their tires. He developed a tire with Hoosier Tire that could last up to three events.

Before the tire debuted in 2012, tires lasting that long were almost unheard of. The new tire cuts potential cost down to $1,500 from what could be $18,000 for the nine-race series, according to Shepherd. He said other racetracks across the nation have started using the same thing.

“[Cost] was the firewall,” Shepherd said. “They could not compete with the teams that had the budgets.”

Because of the reduced cost, the Speedway brings in a variety of racers, from hobbyists to professional hopefuls to youth.

The track hosts two different divisions—one for the pros and one for juniors.

The Speedway’s Junior Division, which was the first of its kind in the world, brings in 10-16 year olds, most of whom have a NASCAR professional debut in their sights. So far in the division’s three years, three drivers have graduated from the division into the NASCAR West series.

The 9-race series is run like a TV show, with each division getting its own episode.

Editing is done at the promoter’s office and then sent off to MAVTV, who will air the “episodes” a few months later starting in June. At that time, only about half of the races have been completed so viewers are still catching up, but as it gets later in the season, the races are sent out quicker and quicker. Even though most televised sports thrive on a live coverage, this audience going out to see racing on the weekend is more receptive to a delayed showing, according to Blakesley.

“By airing them on Thursdays in a serial format, it can get people really immersed in it, opposed to having these month-long breaks in-between,” Blakesley said.

What the speedway sells to its advertisers is the passion of the fans.

“We like to say that in racing, we have the most brand-loyal fans,” Blakesley said. “The stands are very cognizant that the sponsor is very integral in making that brand work.”

One of their newer sponsors, Niceride Clothing out of San Diego, signed on to reach a new demographic.

“You already see people in the stands wearing their apparel,” Blakesley said.

Another, Nut-Up Industries in Escalon, sells an almond snack called Chopped and advertises at the race.

“The partnership with Madera was a great opportunity for us to have a national experience by partnering with our local track,” said Sarah Miller at Nut Up Industries.

Their new marketing push is to get companies from California to buy up billboards and sell concessions as well as apparel. They hope being a one-of-a-kind is the draw they need.

“There’s something in their backyard they may not even know about. There’s an opportunity there,” Blakesley said.

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