- COVID happened and FAST went for over 6 months without an event.
- Steve and Loren came to the realization that they didn't miss the hassle of putting on autocross events as much they might have thought, and decided it was time to pass the torch.
- Philip, Ken and Ben stepped up to take over and create FAST 2.0. Cool!
- After much research and soul-searching, those guys opted to abort FAST 2.0 in October before it even got started. And we understand completely! While we might not agree that it's "impossible", it does present a "risk vs reward" dilemma. None of us can make that decision for them.
One or two people who are motivated to just flat out make it happen! "FAST", as we all know, is a loose group of a few hundred autocrossers (really, more than that), and maybe 80 or so "active members", and if you ask... people are always willing to help with stuff. But, there's got to be somebody at the top to conduct the orchestra. I'm not going to lie and say that it's an easy job. But, if you learn the art of delegation, and combine that with a healthy dose of organization, and an even bigger helping of motivation and sheer will... it's doable.
What we know:
In my experience, a well-run autocross program is a profit-generating machine. Nobody's going to get rich running an autocross club, but making one self-sufficient is generally pretty easy, and in time... profit is possible. Put on good events, promote them as you need to, charge what you need to in order to ensure a comfortable break-even point. FAST never lost money. Even in the early days, we always did better than break-even. That's just good budgeting. More on that later. People are asking for numbers, and we have nothing to hide.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a big deal. It's made putting on something like an autocross event something that takes a great deal of thought, planning and commitment... and acceptance of liability. Steve and I would be lying if we said that it wasn't a factor in the timing of our "exit" from FAST. And Philip, Ken & Ben will likely tell you the same if you ask. It's a serious consideration, and maybe 6 months from now it will be gone? Maybe with sufficient "COVID Waiver" forms, and sufficient insurance, you can make it work? Whoever opts to take the reins gets to make that call. Other clubs are doing it, maybe you can, too? We all have to work within our own comfort level.
You can't have autocross without event insurance. Well, you could... if you could find a site owner that would allow it. But, that's not going to happen. Our insurer (the biggest insurer of autocross events in the country, and one of only 2 or 3, I believe), K&K, opted to not accept "FAST 2.0" as a client. And we were told that they wouldn't have renewed our policy as "the old FAST" for 2021, either. They're never going to explain to us why, but they said they weren't taking new autocross business in Florida. Maybe it has to do with COVID? Maybe it has to do with the number of autocross incidents that have happened in the state in recent years? They're an insurance company, it's all about numbers. It is what it is and we can't change it. Ken & company looked into insurance A LOT, and they did find some options. Options that are 3-4x what we were paying before. And that's a lot. But, we'll talk about numbers in a bit.
Finding places to autocross has always been a challenge, and it's not going to get easier. But, we do still have good relationships with Lakeland, Venice, and Dunnellon. Lakeland and Venice should be available soon, if not already. Dunnellon is still going to bat for us, so could be a future option. Brooksville could maybe be an option if someone finds the right person to talk to. We could even do something at the track in Starke. And if you want to work with the Gulfcoast folks, Buckingham Airfield could be available. So, we're not out of sites. Though, some of them are a bit farther away than we'd like, and maybe not as "awesome" as we'd like, which can affect attendance. Money is a factor, we'll come back to that.
What's not changed?
The core of FAST still exists. As casual as we've always been... if you said "hey, we're going to do a FAST event next month", it would sell out 120 cars within a couple weeks, if not days. 80-90 "regulars", 20 or so noobs, and another 10 or so from across the state. People want to autocross, and we're a known entity. While our "members" are sort of spoiled by not having had to volunteer all that much over the past 10 years or so, I think if you ask, the help is there. You might have to ask twice. You might have to think about "who's the right person to ask?" And you might, occasionally, have to twist some arms. But, we've got good people, and lots of them.
So, where do we stand?
Well, the group of guys who were setting up FAST 2.0 opted to not take over the existing FAST, LLC. They wanted to start from scratch with a new corporation with a different structure. We had no problem with that. Happy to have them take the reins in whatever way they saw fit. So, we closed down FAST, LLC. Officially, FAST as we knew it no longer exists! We cashed out, closed the bank account, and donated all of the equipment to FAST 2.0.
Now, FAST 2.0, after doing much research, decided that they didn't feel FAST could be profitable and they're a bit concerned about COVID liability, and thus they never even set up their corporation. Therefore, all that exists of FAST at this point is the FAST equipment trailer with ALL of the equipment in it (autocross in a box!), the FAST website, forum and Facebook presence, our member database... and a well-respected name. Oh, and Steve and I... while we don't want to run things, would be THRILLED to provide any knowledge and assistance that we can. We've been at this for a while, if you didn't hear.
The Money... historically
In recent years, FAST was grossing on the order of $80k per year doing around 24 events. That's an average of around $3300 per event. In reality, a 100-120 car "Open" event would gross $4000+, and a "Classic" with 40-50 cars could gross as much as $2200ish. Absolute bare-bones expenses varied by site. The variable expenses were lunch/snacks/drinks, which if that expense went up, it was because attendance went up, and it wasn't a problem. Site rental fees are typically $800-1200. Some of the air strips (Brooksville, Dunnellon) can be as cheap as $350 or $500 sometimes. Insurance involved an annual policy premium, plus per-event fees. The average per-event insurance was around $300. Our refreshments budget was usually around $3-400 per event depending on the size and type of event. Other expenses include equipment maintenance/upgrades/repairs, website hosting, annual awards, and whatever else. Bottom line... Steve and I were taking home $24-28k per year for the last few years of FAST. The benefits of creating a well-oiled machine. We were also paying our "crew" (5 people we relied on heavily to get each event set up and running efficiently) by not charging them entry, and also giving them a $30/event cash bonus. That's $80 each for 5 people at each event... which is another $400 per event. So, $4800 of additional profit that was being paid out annually. So, yeah... easily $30k annual profit from FAST as it was, and that's on top of keeping up with all of the equipment and everything.
When we closed the doors, our annual Gross Income was over $80k, we were paying ourselves and others over $30k in profits, and after nearly 15 years in business, we had around $12k in the bank and at least $10k worth of equipment. I think you could pretty much suck at this and still break even. But, that's just, like, my opinion, man.
The Money... NOW
Well, that's a hard question to answer, of course. You'll have start-up expenses to set up an LLC (which isn't a "requirement", but, it's a really good idea), but you WON'T have to buy $10,000 worth of autocross equipment! If you go back to square one, FAST as a "corporation not particularly trying to make a profit", which is where we started... everybody pays an entry fee, even the grand poobah. Nobody takes a salary. That means every single entry at an event generates the same entry fee. Whatever you want/need to set it at.
If you have a typical "cheap site" with a $500 rental fee, and the new insurance rates are an insane $1,000 per event. You have the same $300 "refreshments" budget. $100 to tow the trailer. We're up to about $2000 in expenses. Say, you want to do a Classic event with only 40 drivers (we usually aimed for 48-50 at a Classic, and our break-even was considered to be about 42), you'd need a $50 entry fee to make it work.
If you have a "premium site" at $1200, same $1,000 insurance, maybe $400 refreshments, and still $100 for towing... that's $2700 expenses. An open event with a $40 entry fee would break even at about 68 entries.
So, if COVID restrictions required an "Open" event to only have 35 drivers per session... an event could still break even.
Now, these are really loose numbers, and during the time of COVID, there would be other expenses like masks (gotta have some on-hand), hand sanitizer, cleaners, signage and other stuff. It will all add up. But, as I alluded to earlier... a well-run autocross program is a money-generating machine. It just is. Can it be screwed up? Sure! But, do it right, and it will work every time.
Back to what we need...
Whoever takes the reins, assuming they have the unwavering desire to MAKE IT HAPPEN, needs one or more of these things:
- Utmost confidence in their ability to make this work and turn a profit, or at least break even.
- The personal ability and willingness to absorb a minor loss if it occurs before the business builds some bank.
- Some start-up capital to pay insurance and site deposits and that sort of thing.
- Sponsorship! There's money out there. Car dealers. Parts suppliers. Custom shops. Restaurants. Just need somebody to come up with a way to present it and beat the bushes. In 2003, the Miata Club that FAST was born from was getting $1200/year from a Mazda dealer for nothing more than a Miata club with 100 members putting on occasional autocrosses with 20-30 cars and a monthly newsletter. And that was almost 20 years ago. There's money out there.
- Crowdfunding. Lots of people want to autocross. Lots of people LOVE the sport of autocross. Lots of people LOVE the whole idea of FAST. MOST of those people have at least a little bit of money. Though it might be the cheapest form of entry level motorsport, it still requires disposable income... we all have it. And some have more than others. I think there's potential for some crowdfunding here to at least fund the first year or two of a "FAST Revival". Not enough to cover ALL of the expenses, of course, but at least enough to get the ball rolling again, and cover minor start-up teething pain losses.
So, if you think you're the person:
You're that guy (or gal) who wants to take this on and not take "No" for an answer. Who wants to find all the right people to HELP you do it, because you can't do it all yourself. Who wants to see FAST 3.0 rise from the ashes. Let us know. We'll help. No half-measures here. You've got to be that guy 100%. That's what it takes. That's what we need. If you're that guy, we've got your back!