Madera Speedway successfully ends tough season
Madera Tribune File Photo
Buddy Shepherd takes the checkered flag at the Madera Speedway to win a Nut Up Pro Late Model race June 27. Shepherd won the opening and closing race to take home the 2020 track championship.
Earlier this year, the Madera Speedway was ready for a big 2020 season that included a $10,000 prize in a series of races.
However, opening night of the speedway didn’t happen in mid-March when it was scheduled. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the speedway was forced to go dark.
However, in June, owner Kenny Shepherd got the okay from the Madera County Health Department to commence racing and opening day came almost three months later.
Buddy Shepherd won that first race in June and he closed the season on Oct. 18 to win the Nut Up Pro Lte Model sereies.
From June through October, the Madera Speedway operated on a limited schedule with a mainly local series and drivers while still producing one of its biggest seasons ever in terms of prize money and viewership.
Although fans weren’t allowed in the stands, Shepherd provided fans across the country with a free livestream that benefited not only the speedway, but its sponsors, as well.
Are you finally finished with your season?
We have a club race and we have an open-competition Triple Turkey on Nov. 14. We’re not completely finished, but the hard part is done. We are really never done. We have two seasons. We have the track season and the television season. Our TV series on MAVTV airs every Monday night and there’s a new episode every other week. The racing that we just finished filming, we’ll deliver that until May of next year. We’re not at the racetrack, but the guys at the studio the guys are editing and working. We’re constantly against deadlines all the time.
Are you relieved that the season is over?
I don’t know if relieved is the right word. It’s a lot of hard headedness. I take a lot of pride in the fact we got the whole season in. We did it in the matter that it became one of the biggest we had at the speedway. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the fans there, but we tried to include them in the free livestream. We paid record prize money out. We had the biggest races we had. We had the highest caliber of competition that we have ever experienced. I take a lot of pride that we didn’t give up. We worked really hard. Mission Foods came on board. Our sponsors put a lot of effort in it with us. Tammy and I have been fortunate enough to do well in other business ventures so we had some revenue to donate to the speedway. I’m proud we didn’t back off our charities. We donated to the Madera Rescue Mission and the Madera County Food Bank. We annually donated $5,000 to the mission and we were still able to do that. We also made donations to other charities. we were still able to do things as normal as possible and make the racing season bigger than it had been.
What kind of adjustments did you have to make for the season?
We didn’t let the traveling groups come in. We worked close with Madera County. It was members only and only very specific — like Madera Late Models and Madera Hobby Stocks. It was a very select group of Madera Speedway members. You’re talking about 125 people that were together. For them, they were able to go out. As the livestream started to get bigger and we got on with Lucas Oil TV livestream with a million people, our drivers were able to produce fantastic entertainment that a lot of people enjoyed. It wasn’t rerun stuff from two years ago. It was active right now. We built a really big fan base more than we’ve ever done. The Madera Speedway livestreams had 8,000-10,000 devices watch with about 4-6 people watching so it became 40,000-50,000 watching rather than 3,000 people in the stands. The audience was much bigger. The race teams felt the same as we did. We were providing a service to entertain people to give them an outlet to escape the craziness.
How were you able to provide content for fans of the racing at the speedway?
What most of our friends did that were brave enough to run a modified or reduced racing schedule had a pay-per-view livestream. We chose not to do that. I went to the sponsors and told them I had an idea and it’s going to be painful. We’re losing all of the revenue from the grandstands from the snack bar and merchandise sales, which is devastating. We’re going to provide our content free. What benefitted that was our sponsors. We put a 20 percent off code for anyone watching to buy their product. We did this fun stuff that engaged our sponsors at a high level. We turned a bad thing and turned it into a full glass. We want to be relevant with this sport. Our passion and our desire is our charities and helping Madera while exposing the talent that comes to the speedway. We’re showcasing this talent while helping local charaties while we’re helping local businesses. We’re making Madera speedway relavent. I’m proud we took a bad situation and turned it into the best situation we could. Our relationship with the Madera Fairgrounds is great They helped us enormously in a lot of categories to make this happen. Our sponsors helped us. There were so many people that came together to make this work the way we made it work. It was one of the best seasons we have ever had in one of the worst years.
How was your relationship with your partners around you?
Another point is we’ve never had a better relationship with the Madera Flea Market than we had this year. We went through a lot of aches and pains, but that whole group came together, we wrapped our arms around each other and said how can we all survive this and remain in business. There were just a lot of positive things that you see in negative situations.
Are you going to provide the livestream next season?
The No. 1 topic with our sponsors is they don’t want to lose the livestream. How can we keep this? We have a three-year contract with MAVTV and once we deliver our content to them and they own the right to that. In return, we get commercial space that we can give to our sponsors. TV wants to protect their property. They don’t like the livestream, in particular. This year, we were able to convince them with COVID and no fans in the stands. It became so popular that the sponsors want to keep the livestream. I was on calls for two hours with one of our sponsors about the livestream. We’re working on that right now.
What else are you going to try to do at the speedway?
We have the lowest ticket prices of any speedway in the Western United States. How can I further reduce the ticket prices at the speedway? How can we get back to a $5 ticket night or a family night? The way you can do that is to have more eyeballs watching with more sponsors. That’s the formula.
How were you able to make it a successful season?
My personality is I wanted to be a racecar driver. I’ve been an optimistic person. How can you take a negative situation and make sure you are focusing on it in the most positive manner? I looked for the opportunities and I did that in business. This was really difficult. April and May, it was a dark place to be an outdoor entertainment business. When you have a TV contract and sponsors and all of the things swirling around this, how do you do this? I won’t say it was very easy. Once I have the vision and it started to work, I was proud of what we were able to make happen. We talked earlier about you having to close and try to reopen. You had a Plan A, Plan B and so on.
What plan did you end up using?
I ended up with about Plan E, but probably C. Plan A was as the season continued to shrink and we lost weeks, how can we fulfill the different obligations. Plan B was how do we take care of the TV dates. The other element was the team sponsors. The teams have contract. There were teams that came in to rent cars. There’s a whole industry around the Madera Speedway from people that build cars, mechanics or sell tires. By the time we hit Plan C, we had to reduce the season. We have to do a full season with a half season on the calendar. In eight months, we were going to do in half that time. It was Plan C with modifications along the way.
What were some of the negative parts about what you had to do in the season?
To be a big partner in the community and do what Madera County Health wanted me to do, I cancelled all of the traveling groups to come to Madera. That was tough. Whether it was modified or the southwest tour, there were some people that didn’t understand that. I had significant pushback from the industry. I put statements out to explain that we’re doing this to be as safe as possible and to be a partner with the county. We’re going to do this by the book. There was pushback and it got a little bit rough. I am still proud of how we did it.
Now that the season is over, is it time to rest?
We start the new year in March. It was so different, but it was good to bring those dollars to the Madera community. That was very important to the community. Once the season started, everything was doubled. My guys at the TV studio are cross-eyed or lying on the floor wiped out. I have a whole crew that films that. My officials are wiped out, my teams are wiped out. At the same time, everyone has that same sense of pride at look at what we did. I feel like I won one of the biggest races I have run.