The average NASCAR fan, according to performanceresearch.com, is a married man who is about 42 years old.
A group of people you may not find at most NASCAR races is millennials, but Michigan International Speedway President Roger Curtis is working to change that.
“We’ve decided one of the ways we want to relate to, interact with them (millennials) and have a shared vocabulary is through our music festival,” Curtis said. “Then we can grow them into NASCAR fans there.”
The music festival Curtis is talking about is Keelorah. The event started in 2015 for each of MIS’s NASCAR races in June and in August.
In 2016, the event grew even larger with Third Eye Blind, Elle King, GROUPLOVE and more bands performing in June.
At this weekend’s race, Keelorah goes country with Kip Moore, Chase Rice, Chase Bryant and more performing.
Keelorah also features a music festival atmosphere with foam and paint parties, deejays, a mobile video game arcade, food, drinks and much more.
“I’ve seen a lot of what millennials love and do,” Curtis said. “It’s not a one race and we’re done, it’s trying to find new ways to have a shared vocabulary with millennials.”
Another event that has helped grow MIS’s reach to millennials is Faster Horses Festival, a 3-day camping and country music festival in July.
“On Faster Horses, they’re fully engaged with us, so we’ll continue that on with Keelorah and then hopefully into the world of NASCAR as we get them out here and exposed to the world of the sport.”
Curtis said that the music festivals and even the NASCAR experience is something millennials can relate to but may not know it yet. He said it’s all about building a bridge.
“That sense of community, that sense of belonging, the festival atmosphere, that party,” Curtis said. “But it goes so much deeper than that. Being there with your friends, making new friends, that whole community atmosphere.”
According to Curtis, 55 percent of the people who attended Keelorah had never been to a NASCAR race, and 90 percent of those people stayed for the NASCAR race on Sunday afternoon.
The track has also created a youth fan advisory board that is full of teens and millennials. At first, they used just NASCAR fans, but now they have added teens and millennials that were not NASCAR fans to get their perspective.
“This has been huge in helping us craft and go about things,” he said.
Another way Curtis is reaching out to millennials, and NASCAR fans is through social media, specifically Twitter.
He said MIS Senior Director of Communications Sammie Lukaskiewicz told him he should be on Twitter, but he pushed her off for a long time before breaking down and joining.
“Now it’s become as much of a part of my interaction with fans as my email and face-to-face,” he said. “It’s become a huge part of what we as a racetrack do and what I, as president, do, and it’s had so many positives.”
Curtis is building a following and giving away one-in-a-lifetime experiences for the racetrack to random followers.
He knows what fans want to do, but don’t normally get the chance to do, because he considers himself a race fan who just happens to be in the president’s office at a race track.
“I thought it was an opportunity to give back stuff that I always dreamed of doing while I was working odd jobs and medial jobs,” he said. “I was like, ‘oh man, if I could just walk through the garage, get a pace car ride, oh man that would be my dream,’ and now I have access to all that.”
Curtis also said his Twitter interaction goes beyond the giveaways. On race weekends, and even throughout the year, Curtis will reply to nearly every tweet he gets.
“Fans and their experience is my job,” he said. “To me, I just can’t relate, that’s part of my world, and so I think that has been just as important to build that relationship and show that accessibility.”
He said Twitter has been great for that instantaneous reaction, but sometimes you get the rogue person who is upset.
“If you get someone on there that isn’t happy, it’s not bad press, it’s the exact opposite,” he said. “If you know about a problem, you can instantly deal with it, and especially if it’s on race weekend, you can try and solve it right away.
“Then, when you do get the rogue person who is ticked off for no reason, it’s great because you get all these fans now on Twitter that will jump in and defend the track,” Curtis added.
Tickets are still available for Keelorah and the Pure Michigan 400 this weekend. Learn more at MISpeedway.com.