Premier Speedway general manager David Mills took a big punt when he drove the change to a three-night Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic.
It was a gamble in terms of breaking tradition and tampering with an internationally successful event. Would it work? Would the crowds and drivers support it?
Even before last night’s finale, the answers were unequivocally yes. A record 112 drivers competed and attendance numbers hit unprecedented levels. About 5700 patrons attended on Friday and 7100 on Saturday night before a huge crowd of about 8500 packed the Allansford speedway last night.
Drivers canvassed by The Standard gave the three-night format the thumbs up and the vibe around Warrnambool with a flood of speedway-inspired tourists underlined the event’s popularity.
I argued back in 2011 that organisers had to move to three nights because the event had outgrown two. Long programs inevitably led to late nights and fans and teams were tiring of being kept at the track into the wee hours.
Friday night’s racing was over by 10.30pm; Saturday’s by 11pm.
Mills’ email and phone ran hot, not with complaints but praise from punters who enjoyed getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
Some eyebrows were raised at the cost of the three-night show, $85 for an adult pass for three nights or $30 for the first two and $35 last night. Sure, times are tough but with more than five hours entertainment each night, it was good value for money. A ticket to an international music star’s concert usually goes for about $200 for three hours’ entertainment. That seems exorbitant compared to $35 last night for the biggest and best field of sprintcar drivers ever assembled in Australia.
Clearly fans voted with their feet. They like the three-night concept. Now Premier Speedway Club faces a different task — improving what is already a great event and ensuring fans are well catered for.
Mills is already talking about improvements to spectator facilities but after the dust settles on the 42nd Classic, no doubt he will be pleased he and the club went out on a limb.