[media-credit id=4 align=”alignright” width=”266″][/media-credit]Mark Dilley had a plan in his mind as he knew what he wanted the track to look like. However, explaining it to the construction engineers was another story. They wanted it explained in percentages while Dilley only knew the degrees of banking he wanted.
With just over 12 hours to put together a plan, it was time to hit a deadline. Everything came together that night after drawing at the kitchen table using his kids’ crayons, a dinner plate and tea cup, along with a call to a friend who had a computer program.
Flash forward two race seasons and Sunset International Speedway has gone from a track that was down in the dumps into a track that drivers want to race at.
“First off, the staff they all seem to take pride in their jobs at the speedway and they do it with a sense of professionalism,” 2011 Limited Late Model (LLM) Champion Kevin Cornelius says. “The facility is second to none, in my opinion. I think the new ownership group has done an outstanding job bringing Sunset Speedway back to life and generating a lot of excitement at the speedway. Also, the competition last year was the some of the best in Ontario and it showed with close hard racing every night, and the competitors, I’m proud to race door to door with them.”
Dilley got on the ownership side of Sunset after hearing about the status of track. Dilley himself grew up racing at Sunset and the track still meant a lot to him. He also had enjoyed the time that he spent in charge of Barrie Speedway with Brad Moran. So when it came to this situation, everything just came together.
“When we got involved in this, they put a team of owners together that had money to back it and really wanted to make a difference,” he explains. “They’ve done that by the investment they’ve made into the track, redoing the track. Just whatever they said they’d do, they’ve done and it’s been good to work with partners like that where they have the money to repave the track, redo it and a real fast and exciting place to be.”
For drivers that race at Sunset, they note it’s because of his understanding with them.
“Mark has made Sunset International Speedway one of Canada’s top oval tracks by being a promoter who understands what it takes to make a track work,” Mike Bentley, Sunset LLM Competitor, explains. “Being a driver himself, he understands what the weekly racers at Sunset go through and makes sure their opinions and concerns are heard.”
Becoming in charge of Sunset Speedway came out of a business venture already started with business partner Linda Jones – Wide Open Motorsports. They started Wide Open Motorsports in 2007 because there was a need for race teams to someone to organize the marketing.
“When NASCAR started, there was a need for teams to have organization from the side of corporate representation,” he explains. “As far as organizing things at the race track, activation of sponsorships, and really where the teams are on demand to that, that’s really how it got started. Whether we came in and managed an existing sponsorship or brought in a new sponsorship and did it that way. Basically to organize and do everything under one umbrella.”
One of the keys to the organization is finding sponsorship, which isn’t always easy. Due to that, most businesses, as Dilley explains, ask for money up front.
“A lot of times there are companies and agencies that will do things, but they take a big retainer,” he explains. “So what that means is basically if I was going to get you a sponsorship, you’d give me $40,000-$50,000 up front to hunt that sponsorship down. I guess if I find something, that’s good. If I don’t, well, that’s part of the business.”
However, Dilley and Jones do it differently to make it easier.
“Basically, Linda and I put whatever to some degree – I mean, we’ll come back and ask for some money if its getting real crazy – but generally speaking, we do everything upfront,” he says. “We work on a street permission basis.”
So far in the five years the company has been open, they’ve put together some good sizable sponsorship packages for drivers. One of the biggest was getting Canadian Tire to sponsor Scott Steckly.
“Early on, to get Canadian Tire was huge for us,” he says. “They were basically going to get out of motorsports – we managed to get them back in, so that was huge.”
Finding the sponsorships hasn’t been easy due to the economy as Dilley says when the economy goes down, a lot of companies cut advertising business first. However, it’s still possible to find sponsorship as it’s all about being prepared to give back to the sponsor.
“Make sure to be prepared to give back 30% minimum of what you’re going for,” he advises. “So if you’re basically if you need $10,000 to race, if that’s your race budget, then you really need to get $13-$14,000 cause you’re going to spend $4,000 on activating that $10,000. So what that means – so if you get $10,000, you’re only going to spend on race program about $7,000 cause you’re going to be spending $3,000 on tickets, buildboards, shirts, lettering, shows, whatever it may be to get them involved.”
Dilley adds that most people don’t do that and end up using the full $10,000 they get on the race car and doing their own thing. Dilley says that because drivers are forgetting to give back to the sponsor, sponsors are leaving due to no return investment.
Beyond Wide Open Motorsports and running Sunset Speedway, Dilley is also a driver in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. This past season, Dilley finished sixth in points with a win on the season coming at his home track, Barrie Speedway. Keep everything balanced at times isn’t quite easy, he admits.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on at the same time; that’s the biggest thing,” he explains.
There was the one weekend during the season in July where Dilley made multiple trips back and forth from Sunset Speedway to Exhibition Place for the Canadian Tire Series race weekend so he could race, while keeping an eye on the double-header show.
When he can’t be there, he depends a lot on his staff to keep things under control.
“We do have good staff that works for us at Sunset that can take up a lot of slack,” he says.
Most notably, he brought Steve Slaughter on board to be part of the management team. Slaughter has experience running race tracks himself as he was in charge of Sunset during the last 1990s.
“Sunset Speedway thinks that they need to have one late model driver to what they call headline the show which I think is a slap in the face to the rest of us other drivers that race at sunset speedway,” Cornelius explains. “It’s my opinion that this do called headliner hurts our car counts and the quality of the show that we try to put on every Saturday night.”
There are also those who feel that there are issues within technical inspection and drivers getting away with breaking the rules.
“They need to stick with the rules when it comes to teching,” Tara Case, Sunset Super Stock driver, says. “They let too many people away with stuff and makes it harder for others to make it anywhere.”
Though overall, everybody says that things with the track are quite positive from their perspective.
“His team has done a great job and you can see this by all the people in the stands,” Evan Towle, who is in charge of CanadianRacingOnline.com. “Every time I go, I notice a new improvement.
“The things I notice is the staff is really friendly and the people in the stands are talking about how much they like the track and what Mark and his team has done.
“Never had anything that I can complain about since Mark took over. I have followed Mark Dilley since his CASCAR days and he loves racing and he is a no bs type guy. I brought my daughter to NASCAR Speedpark and Mark was there with his car. He talked to her and you can really see he enjoys racing and his fans and you can see this with everything he has done for Sunset Speedway.”