Rock Island marketing question/ideas

For the last few years we’ve been trying to upgrade our marketing, which is already pretty good in a lagging kart world. I think we boosted social media this year and James’ tale of racing at The Rock on a $1,000 kart was both helpful and interesting. We are in the process of putting together a marketing advisory group where, frankly, it doesn’t matter if they know anything about karting as long as they have ideas. But I thought I’d see if this group has any thoughts about things you have (or haven’t) seen but seem to make sense.

Given our race has a huge spectator draw (17,000 over 2 days, mostly on Sunday) and runs through downtown city streets, we have to have a multi-focus approach. I think we need to: 1) Promote and engage downtown businesses and residents; 2) Promote to regional spectators; 3) Promote to draw potential racers; 4) Promote and engage racers who come to Rock Island in hope that they already want to come back and race again. We’ve done some of all of this but without a real plan… now we’re trying to put a plan together. Oh, and all with a limited budget but quite a few media partners. What would you do?

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Is there a non-kart angle? Music?

I know I floated this idea once before when we spoke, It’s a kinda risky proposition… but getting locals in the seat so the locality has more skin in the game could have some legs.

Ie various local celebs, biz owners and perhaps town officials in rental karts with appropriate safety features. Wraparound bumpers, adjustable seats etc etc.

That’s something you can crate a buzz around that people will want to watch.

Again, I’m cognizant of the challenges here in terms of logistics, safety and of course the scarcest resource of all: track time.

Maybe I can come in 2024 with a bunch of rentals :thinking:

Yes, that’s been kinda up and down but we’re working on that. There are other distractions like a car Cruise-In and the local pro hockey team does a street hockey thing in the infield. And whatever you think should be there, let me know and we’ll try to add it!!

Yes, I haven’t forgotten. We tried that years ago and charged like $300 to race and only got a handful of entries and ended up giving a bunch to media personalities to race. We eventually gave it up because we needed the time for real racing… and that’s probably still the case. One possible option might be to try and do it off track … maybe even Friday …but given what the insurance world is these days I’m not too anxious to try that…

I don’t have any marketing experience but a few ideas that occurred to me…

Pertaining to the businesses…depending on the number of businesses spectators could participate in a poker run or bingo where they have to visit each business to either make a poker hand or try to get a bingo. I would think spectators would have to pay to play but they could possibly earn / win prizes.

Another idea, this might be an illegal form of gambling but have spectators bet on races.

Besides karts are there other classes? Such as bar stool karts, scooters or lawn tractors, etc?

We’re always open to ideas. Part of our challenge is getting businesses to get on board … at least in the post Covid era. It is a holiday weekend, so I get that. But others close…and complain … because their regular customers can’t park in front of the business. At the same time they do nothing to sell themselves to the thousands of new potential customers we have walking past their doors… thus the need to promote/market to them better. The other aspect is that our race organization has its hands full just running the race part of the weekend. If we can get businesses better engaged there is any number of things they could do.

We have a Bally’s casino in Rock Island, which is a sponsor, but I’ve never asked if gambling on the races is legal or not. Thanks. As for other forms of racing, honestly we’re already racing 12 hour days, although we have talked about Big Wheel races for kids which could be done elsewhere while kart racing is going on. Like I said, we are open to ideas but the big focus right now is on marketing and promotion … which could include those ideas.

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Respectfully, you hit the nail on the head with your snippet about your race management team focusing on the event.

That team of people should be separate from your marketing group. They should of course work hand in hand, but you can’t have one person doing both jobs effectively for an event of that scale if you want it to grow.

I definitely understand that is a lot easier said than done, but I do think it is at the core of the challenge.

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This right here is spot on. Never ran a racing event, but did do a large fundraiser bass tournament for several years. You can juggle both in the run up to the event, but it’s hard. Once you hit the event, you needed dedicated people focused on event operation and others dedicated to your communications, marketing, fundraising efforts.

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Indeed Chuck. I have several years of experience running a karting series and found it to be the most challenging thing I’ve done so far professionally (and I wasn’t even really paid!)

That said, it taught me a lot, and this was one key thing I took away - jumping from a ‘race’ to an ‘event’ is a big jump.

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Thanks. This isn’t our first rodeo. The 2024 event will be our 29th in 31 years and it has always extended beyond just racing. But there is definitely some ebb and flow. Over this many years in the sport we have learned that things change… when we started in 1994 the Internet was barely a thing and social media wasn’t even a dream yet. We know what we can handle and what we can’t… and have been pretty successful as a result. But there are several areas where you all might be able to help.

First, I believe we have the old marketing standards covered… TV, radio, digital print, email, social media, YouTube, digital pamphlets, etc. But any suggestions as to what the " next big thing" might be that we’re overlooking? Beyond that, what can we put out there that would capture your interest as a Racer? Spectator? Sponsor? Local business person? And once you come to Rock Island, what kinds of things (beyond the obvious) would keep you coming back (and if your answer is ‘having fun’ how would you describe that?)

I just mentioned something about this in another topic… karting in general could use some focus on the basics rather than pursuing the next big thing or trend.

I like think about what the purpose of the RIGP is and work back from that. ie what is it’s main purpose. To me it seems like that goal is to add to the business and community of the quad cities?

As far as the on track racing goes, I think the event has hit an unfortunate glass ceiling in the very sport it supports. The time of year is not fantastic from a participation perspective and it’s no secret that racing dates overlap in a manner that makes it difficult to get people to make the trip when they’re committed to other series. The event has tried a lot of different creative class offerings, but for some reason many of the verbal/social media commitments fall short on action.

Back to the purpose of increasing the value to the community…. I would imagine there are probably quite a few things that have proven tk work well at other events that could be considered for feasibility at the Rock.

Ha! I suspect that many things we;ve been doing since Covid aren’t all that common in the sport. That said, I feel like we were behind on social media until this year… and may still be. It’s important to know what others are doing that is working! Adn uir main goal has always been do put on a top karting event while benefiting the downtown and making enough money to keep, things going. All require racer’s and business support.

You are correct that there are so many national and regional series that one-off events like ours can be lost in the hustle… although the sport is getting better at not piling them up on the same weekend… When drivers can go to 6-8-10 races in one series, it’s tough to convince them to add one more. I’ve had several racers tell me that no matter how you finish at Rock Island, when you go back to your home track or series you will be a better racer, so that’s one reason.

For those who dream of moving on to FI IndyCar, NASCAR etc., they all run street races. Isn’t it better to learn from doing one now than to crash and burn trying to get a ride later?

Finally, there is nowhere else in karting that I know of, where you can race in front of as many spectators as at Rock Island. That fact and photos should be an essential element in seeking driver sponsors for future seasons. Then of course there’s Rob Howdsen’s famous quote: “Rock Island – The most fun you will have on and off the track.” Yea, it’s not so much fun if you crash and bend stuff up, but that’s generally in the hands of the drivers.

The glass ceiling is a challenge, but there are a number of reasons for it… and as we all know, karting changes with the wind. What I’m just looking for now are suggestions as to how we can make it more attractive and then ideas on how to market and promote that. Bottom line w need to keep attracting new drivers as old ones leave, and we need to be able to pay the always-growing bills!

Something I recall from visiting the Elkhart GP before finally racing in it this year was the track announcer making a point of encouraging spectators to patronize a restaurant located inside the track. Their main entrance was closed by placement of the track so they were seating patrons through their patio IIRC. My son and I made a point of having dinner there at least once during the event. I’m don’t know how businesses inside the track at Rock Island are situated but that caught my attention.

Our restaurants are all outside the track – offices, residential bdgs. and a dinner theater in the middle . It fills with reservations in advance and we have reached a truce by providing a shuttle from the parking lot to the theater. It’s well worth a visit but the dinner starts early for racers. We promote them. My frustration is with the places that are closed… meaning at the places that are open it can take 30-45 minutes to get served becasue they are so busy. The whole idea is we bring people to town to benefit the businesses… hundreds of people walk past their doors, yet some are so entrenched in the daily routine they don’t see the opportunity. I’d be taking names and emails, handing out discount cards etc. But honestly that’s beyond what we can worry about.


Some businesses aren’t all about absolute profit at all times. They can be an expression of culture, and thus disruption to that routine can off-set any potential of opportunity. I think it’s worth being sympathetic to that. If your customer base is local friends/family and they get their routine disrupted, said owners might have to deal that social aspect. They won’t necessarily want to be seen to promote something has detrimental affects to their regular customers. which actually may have long-term negative effects.

Sometimes just listening to them with a sympathetic ear can do more than handing out fliers or trying to promote their businesses ever can. Some people don’t want the extra business.

Thanks Alan. Absolutely right… we’ve been doing that since Year 1

30 posts were split to a new topic: Karting Marketing Discussion