Concerns over losing an annual off-road racing event just outside Surprise had Speedworld officials earlier this month pleading for financial assistance from the city to promote the event and gain more attendees.
During its Feb. 8 meeting, the City Council wrestled with but eventually agreed to allocate $15,000 from the city’s tourism fund to Speedworld to support the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series event, scheduled for April 15-17 in Wittmann, through various marketing efforts.
Councilman Richard Alton raised concerns about whether it was right for the city to financially support any event that would not be in Surprise and what benefit the city would ultimately receive.
The debate on supporting Speedworld led to a discussion about whether the city should get in the business of funding regionally-based events that wouldn’t necessarily take place in Surprise, but would have a direct impact on local hotels, restaurants and attractions.
It’s been no secret that Speedworld owner Dan Matthews, who regularly attends tourism board meetings, has been pressing city officials for financial support during the past year.
His persistence paid off, with Interim City Manager Mark Coronado deciding the City Council should have the opportunity to discuss whether to support Speedworld about two months before its largest annual event.
Matthews said attendance is slumping at Speedworld and losing races to other Valley racetracks. He said gaining some type of city support would be advantageous in keeping off-road racing events in the northwest Valley.
“The more attractive we make it, the more likely the events stay,” Matthews said.
By allocating the $15,000, Surprise will be able to dictate what type of coverage will be seen in 50 Speedworld advertisements seen on Speed, Versus, Spike, TNT and ESPN 2.
The guaranteed television spots will be shown locally and in Nevada and southern California, highlighting Surprise as an enjoyable family-friendly and exciting place to live and visit.
The city-allocated money will also go toward dedicated television time for helicopters to capture aerial views of Surprise; advertisements in industry magazines showcasing Surprise as an elite destination; and promoting upcoming Surprise events on the racetrack Jumbotron.
By becoming a partner with Lucas Oil for Speedworld events, Coronado said Surprise would receive the goodwill necessary to keep the annual three-day events in the northwest Valley and possibly enhance them for the long term.
Councilwoman Sharon Wolcott said it will be important for the city to continue to “look outward” and work with neighboring communities in the hopes of strengthening the local economy.
Coronado also argued promoting Speedworld’s events strengthens tourism and the local economy in Surprise as many out-of-state visitors dine at area restaurants and stay several nights in local hotels.
In September, a three-day event at Speedworld attracted about 10,000 fans and garnered more than $86,000 for six Surprise hotels, according to a city report.
The Comfort Inn and Residence Inn only attracted 40 and 47 room nights, respectively, during the event, but the Hampton Inn and Suites and Days Inn & Quality Inn fared much better with 286 and 265 room nights, respectively.
In addition, Lucas Oil had a fan appreciation day at Buffalo Wild Wings in Surprise, which netted the national off-road racing sponsor an additional $3,000 in sales.
Coronado said retail stores, such as Wal-Mart and Target and grocery stores, also show increased sales when the off-road racing events take place in Wittmann.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.