Friday, January 11, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - What Makes It Work?

The Bethel Spring Series, a friendly race oriented set of races going on for almost 15 years, was started by two of my teammates in the early 90s. They started the event because they didn't want to pay, at that time, $18 (a "summer race" price) to race at a race with no prizes offered to racers. They felt that either the entry should be lower or the race should offer prizes. The only way they could make this happen was to hold their own races. The first year they charged, tongue in cheek, $7.95 for entry all inclusive (insurance was $1 at the time). They even brought rolls of nickels for change.

They expected perhaps 20 racers a field and sometimes got as many as 30. Almost all the racers declined the nickel change, thanking them instead for offering a race friendly series of races.

We now charge a bit more for entry (I think it was $12 pre-reg and $17 day of race) but we also give away a lot of prizes, mainly cash, sometimes merchandise. For our 6 week series we give away about $8000, maybe $9000, in cash, all money raised from entry fees. In addition a couple sponsors give some stuff away, and if we have extra money, we buy some prizes to raffle off.

I can't tell you exactly why the Series has been successful but I feel it's a combination of things.

First, we offer a reasonable entry fee. For pre-registered racers it's very reasonable, and if you pre-reg for two races (all but Pros, and male Cat 1s, 2s, and 5s can do this), we discount the second race, even if it's day of race.

Second, we give most of that entry money back to the racers. They see a lot of prizes ($50 primes are not uncommon, $20 are, and $20/10 or $30/20 two place primes are sort of normal). On big field days we've offered $100 primes. We pay out at least $4000 on the last week of racing (overall and daily prizes combined) as well as another $500 in trophies and perhaps $1000 in sponsor-provided prizes. On weather-cooperative years we'd buy Spinergy (when they were around) or Topolino wheels and give them away. The last couple years we've had to cancel a race a year so no wheel giveaways.

Third, we (the promoters) do not take any money for ourselves. I decided to change this for 2007 but I've since decided it would wait till 2008. The only money I make is if I win it. For 2007 the race remains a not for profit thing.

Fourth, we empathize with the racers. If anyone calls us or writes us prior to race day and asks for a refund, we give it to them. If they prepaid for two races and after the first one they decide not to race (it's raining, they're tired, whatever), we refund them their second race entry. If someone flats right before the start, we'll let them get a wheel before the race starts, or have them take their "free lap" right away. In contrast think about the following non-Bethel experience. My co-promoter had a 106 fever before a race. He called the race promoter and asked for either a refund or a chance to give his spot to a teammate. He was denied both. The promoter pocketed my co-promoter's money and sold the spot to the next person on the wait list. Not very sympathetic, and not really a race I'd want to support as a racer. Our race doesn't do this.

In fact, when trying to decide what to do and not do, I tend to be pretty conservative. When I was given the task of running the series (the two founding teammates had respectively moved or retired from racing the year of the first Bethel), we sent out flyers in envelopes. I purchased mailing lists from the USCF for the area (CT, NY, MA, RI I think) and we purposely did not send out flyers to the areas from which we thought the other series drew its racers. I just felt it wasn't the right thing to do. When the other series shut down I felt it was okay to send flyers into that area.

I've made mistakes too, and some of them were quite embarrassing. More than once my final Series points calculations have been off and affected racers only pointed them out late in the day, like either during the prize presentation or a week later. I gave the team prize to one team only to learn that another team had rightfully won it. I talked with both of them and the holder of the trophy nicely agreed to hand it over to the other team. This happened at a later race and they went out on the course and proceeded to shred each others' legs into mush.

Ultimately I try and do what I think I'd want done if I was a racer. I never realized how difficult the "First race at 8 AM, the rest follow in order" was on a racer until I went to such a race. With various other things happening, I was pressed for time and the uncertainty of the race start time really threw me off. I told my then future wife that for 2008 we'd publish start times.

I also sweep the course because, frankly, I hate courses where it's sandy. And in March and April in Connecticut, it's SANDY! I've had some interesting experiences with sweeping and racing, and it seems that part of my relaxation slash stress-reduction therapy is to sweep the road on the day of the race. As an added bonus I can use those "lanes" for my sprint.

As a racer I think that prize money is good, even if I don't have a chance of taking a huge chunk of it home. I feel like the promoter is trying to give something back to the racers, not take all the money for themselves. Granted, it's okay to take some money, but at some level I think promoters need to give back. It's sort of like putting things for sale on eBay or in a classifieds. I got some carbon bars on my bike and I didn't want them. I listed them for $100 on some classifieds but no one took me up on it. I put it on eBay, no reserve, at 99 cents. When no one bid on it for a while I thought, well, I guess I just gave away my bars. But to my surprise a little bidding war erupted. The final selling price? $101. It all works out in the end.

Anyway, for 2008 we're still waiting for permission from the town. Somehow our request didn't make it into the December meeting so we need to wait until January 16 to hear from the town. Until then we just sit tight.


JB said...

Thanks for organizing a race series! I haven't been able to make it down but hope to at some point.


Anonymous said...

The series i the bomb - best thing going on the racing scene in CT IMO. Aki - you forgot to mention pimp-ass Festinas you had one year. I'm still flossin' one.

Aki said...

If you're one of the Festina winners then you must have done well in the series. I forgot about those. I wonder if I can get some more of them.

Aki said...

JB, hope you can make it down from up north. We sweep the roads you know :) Well at least the race course.

Anonymous said...

Aki -- many reasons why I am counting down to Bethel:

huge fields
strong teams
individual race permits
big payouts
early season
great course
and you didn't bust my stones when I forgot my license last year.


Aki said...

err ahem that last item must have been at a different series :)

Thanks for the good words :)