RacingJunk.com and the United States Motorsports Association both have common goals – supporting the myriad fields of grassroots racing with hands-on access to the information and tools that make racing better. For RacingJunk, this means being a platform to put racers, dealers and enthusiasts together to buy, sell and trade race parts, learn about events and read the latest in race and performance news and how-tos. For the USMA, it means working with sanctioning bodies, tracks, racers and fans to make racing more accessible through legislative advocacy, information and on the ground action. The mission statement is protecting and promoting grassroots racing, and that’s exactly what they do.
RacingJunk spoke with Shawn Stewart, Executive Director for USMA, about the history of the organization and some of its recent efforts on behalf of the racing community.
1. What was the impetus behind the USMA? What kickstarted it?
It was determined by several industry people that there was a need for starting a collective group that could focus on greater organization and data for Grassroots Racing. The initial group of founding companies included Lucas Oil, Safety Kleen, Optima Batteries, Pull-A-Part and other key individuals and organizations who came together to form the United States Motorsports Association as a nonprofit organization. Prior to its launch, about a year was spent building a unique structure and plan. The focus of the USMA took shape as we determined that the biggest need was providing tangible governmental support to Grassroots Racing tracks, series and businesses, while also mobilizing all forms of racing as one unified voice. You’ll notice even in our logo design there is not representation of any one particular form of racing. We stay focused on grassroots and it must be under some form of competition. If there is a clock or trophy involved, we cover it.
2. What is the ultimate goal of the organization?
USMA is on a mission to promote the economic benefits of the racing industry, change negative perceptions of our sport and unify us as one loud voice.
We do this by conducting economic impacts research reports for tracks or businesses and then supporting them by promoting the reports and ensuring they get in front of their elected leaders. We have to do a better job of telling our compelling story. Racing accounts for billions in economic impacts, millions of jobs, millions of charitable donations, education platforms for teaching science and math and many more benefits, but we must get these stories out.
We have spent the last few years bringing politicians to all kinds of racing events around the country. Most of these are grassroots events with local and state elected leaders attending. Many are attending for the first time despite the fact that the track has been there for decades. 98% of the officials we interact with do not have an accurate perception of racing, and equally frightening is they have never met their local track owners, promoters, racers, etc. But 100% of those we brought out have been blown away by what they experienced vs. what they expected to experience. The perception going in is that racing is dirty, unprofessional, lawless, reckless, not environmentally friendly and economically poor. But after seeing things like laptops hooked up to race cars, professional teams, well run events and thousand of people in the grandstands, their entire perception changes. It’s our job to change the negative perceptions and build relationships with our elected officials.
We recently had a group of officials at a major motorcross race. During the event the U.S. Open golf tournament was taking place in the same state, which provided a 120 million dollar economic impact to the region. The race event provides a 27 million dollar impact. But the race event was also celebrating its 40th year. The U.S. Open is one time event. The race event that most of the politicians knew nothing about is more valuable than the U.S. Open year over year. Since that event, there have been positive changes and new support towards the racing event.
We can no longer afford not to unify and have our voices heard. As racers, we tend to go do our thing and want the government to leave us alone. We are great at complaining when a new regulation hits our industry or another track closes down. But we typically don’t understand how it happened or what the process would have been to prevent it from happening in the first place. There is racing activity in all 50 states, but nearly all of our issues are controlled at the local or state level. For example, a track could be facing a sound issue in Texas and the exact same issue could be facing a track in California. But these aren’t federal issues, they are resolved on a state or, even more commonly, local county level. Elected officials at the local and state level can win or lose elections by just a few votes. The average grassroots track might have several thousand people in the grandstands every weekend. Those numbers can change the outcomes of local elections. But we need everyone in an organized database. Our goal is to have our membership reach one-million. When you look at groups like the NRA, regardless of your political views, they have influence in numbers. We need the same to affect changes.
3. Can you give me some examples of how the USMA is enacting its message in practical terms? (I know it has been instrumental in getting some hands-on changes done at some local tracks.)
Three primary ways USMA is working in the industry on…
1) Immediate Issues: We get calls from tracks, racing series and businesses who are facing governmental issues. Our Government Affairs team is very experienced, especially at local and state government levels. We also support national issues such as the RPM Act, where we recently placed U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry (sponsor of the RPM Act) in a Dirt Late Model at his local dirt track. Most of our work, though, is on the state or local levels. There are many options and strategies that the racing industry simply isn’t familiar with when it comes to government affairs. We’ve been successful in getting things done and resolved without spending huge amounts of money or having it lead to a larger scale issue. Our team understands both the racing business and the government. For example, Summit Motorsports Park was recently having an issue regarding three light poles on the end of their dragstrip. We were able to bring a fresh approach to the issue and took some innovative actions that ultimately led to resolving the issue. We like to say we do best in the trenches, on the front lines and down in the weeds of local and state issues. We support other groups like SEMA with more national broader issues.
2) Preventing Issues: Our organization places a lot of focus on establishing relationships between our industry and elected officials. We not only invite politicians out to racing events, but we help educate our industry on the best practices for building relationships within their communities. It’s crucial that tracks, series and race teams know their local elected leaders. We’ve had several cases where a politician was receiving complaints about a track from 1 or 2 people. Once they realized that hundreds of people do not have the same complaint and actually appreciate the track, the tide turns. But it’s important there is a relationship established before the complaint. Every track in America should do an economic impact report, present it to their local leaders, meet with their town officials and establish relationships. Community involvement and close communication can be key to preventing or resolving issues. Our goal is to change our own industry internally towards becoming more engaged in their local and state politics.
3) Organizing a Unified Voice: The USMA is the umbrella for all forms of racing across all 50-states to connect as one unified voice. We get the word out by tracks, racing series, industry businesses, racers, fans and great websites like RacingJunk. The USMA doesn’t belong to any one person. It exists to be the engine behind the industry, but we rely on the community to spread the word. It’s nothing that other groups haven’t done. There is a beer association and even a cemetery association. It’s a bit scary when dead people are more organized than grassroots racing! But we hope to change that. We can no longer hide out, then be surprised when others advocate against us. There are solutions, there are actions we can all take and it starts with banding together.
4. What’s the difference between joining the USMA and signing the petition to protect racing?
To become a “Registered Member” or sign the petition, there are no fees. You are casting your support not only for the work of the USMA, but for grassroots racing survival in general. We keep you informed of issues happening around the country, and if your specific area is affected we give info and instruction on the actions you can take to help. Becoming an “Official Member” is casting both your voice and a small annual financial commitment of $45. This comes with an official shirt, decal and raffle tickets to win a 2018 Polaris RZR 1000.
5. Are there different legislative needs amongst the different types of racing? (Off-road, drag racing, circle track, etc)
We are seeing common issues affecting all types of racing, but they are taking place primarily at the local and state levels. The most common issues are sound (we don’t call it noise), environmental and land use issues. But we’ve run into others such as transportation, taxes, zoning and permitting.
6. How can racers and fans support the organization?
All racers and fans should get registered. It only takes a few seconds. There is NO cost. We won’t bombard you with emails. But we need everyone in the database. The “power in numbers” saying is true. We’ve seen change take place simply by showing our numbers. We’ve had some recent local level elections swayed by racers banding together to vote. We must have a unified voice! Secondly, join as an “Official Member.” It only costs $3.75 a month. How much was your last Starbucks coffee? We run a very lean organization, rely on a lot of volunteers and great companies for support, but financial support is still needed to continue our work. Thirdly, get to know your local officials. Invite them out to the track. Meet with them and explain the economic benefits your track provides. If you need help in organizing and event contact, the USMA we can help.
7. What would YOU do with the UTV raffle prize?
I would take my son and enter the NORRA (National Off Road Racing Association) Mexican 1000. This event runs through Baja Mexico and is a rally that honors the history of the original Baja 1000 Race. I’ve spent a lot of time in Baja as a kid and in my early racing career. I’d like for my son to experience Baja. It’s just not a place that can be explained…it must be experienced. And I can’t think of a better vehicle to get me through the tough terrain of Baja than the Polaris RZR!
To become a member, or enter to win the Polaris, go HERE!