What Short-Track Racing Can Learn From Madhouse

Seth SandsCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

A docusoap/reality show about short track racing made its way to mainstream programming.

Madhouse on History Channel is entertaining, yet over-the-top to get the storylines across. But it does engage the viewer which is a good thing.

Non-racing fans and casual viewers might be turned off by the stereotypes portrayed on during the show, that’s a downfall. 

The majority of ticket buyers, needed to fill short track’s empty seats, don’t dig authentic hillbilly brawls, and redneck antics. It’s a stereotype most tracks still have trouble shaking. If local short tracks were totally scripted that’d be OK, but they're not yet.

But there are takeaways from the show and how it is produced that short tracks could learn from on how back-stories, foreshadowing and the first 15-mins. of a show hook viewers/spectators.

  • Like pro-wrestling and other entertainment, the opening is key. Create the characters, make the villains, and define the heroes. You only have one shot to do get it done right, and it has to be done quickly. If you don’t have them hooked and on the edge of the seat anticipating the unpredictable in the first 15mins you’re doomed.
  • Tell a story. Conflict means nothing without context. Explain the feud, elaborate on the back-story and foreshadow possible endings.
  • Keep the show rolling. Make sure each element of the show relates to the storyline and outcome. Cut the crap that doesn’t matter, that only distract the viewer/fan from the content that sells.
  • Fans like to create “tribes” for their favorite/hated drivers. Allow it. But keep it PG-13. The more fans can relate to the stars/characters persona and then share that passion with other fans the better.
  • Viewers/Fans have ADD. End the show while their still engaged in the story.
  • The ending has to resolve the conflict of the storyline but leave the viewer/fan wanting to watch/attend next week’s episode. Almost a story within a story. People like conflict that evolves. Kind of like the Boston vs. New York rivalry.

We should remember that Bowman Gray is unique. Just like tracks’ Thunder Road and Eldora. Other tracks can try to emulate the product they offer, but they'll never come close. What other tracks can do is create something that is compelling and unique to their areas fan's entertainment wants and needs.

Fighting, just to fight doesn’t sell tickets at a track. The conflict has to have some context behind it. That’s why Bowman Gray and Madhouse are compelling.