They hoped a market that motorcycle racing hadn’t tapped for years would boost their plan to grow the sport. But advance tickets sales gave them no idea of how huge it would be.
A crowd of 5,000 would have been declared a sellout. Walk-up ticket purchases last year pushed that number to an oversold 6,500.
“They showed up and said, ‘We’re ready to party,” said Cameron Grey, COO of AFT Events. “It was like ‘Holy cow!’ I remember being out by the ticket booth at one o’clock and, boy, did the flood just come. It came in, and it didn’t stop.”
The series makes its return Saturday with the newly sponsored Indian Motorcycle Red Mile, the eighth event on the AFT Series.
Five-time AFT champion and last year’s Red Mile twins winner Jared Mees will be on the card. He remembers the inaugural event fondly.
“I really like the city of Lexington, and I enjoyed it,” Mees said this week. “Obviously, it was good for us because we got the win. The track was good. It held up good, and we got a good groove on it. It was solid."
Red Mile and AFT learned a lot from last year’s hits and misses. They are adding 1,000 bleacher seats in Turn 1 with the possibility of bringing in more temporary seating if sales continue to go strong this week.
“I didn’t hear any major complaints,” Mary Catherine White, Red Mile’s director of marketing, said of AFT’s and the track’s review of the event. “It was more ‘How do we make this better?’ ‘How do we improve this experience?’”
Last year, a reserved grandstand ticket got you into the grandstand wherever you could find a seat. This year, all the grandstand seats are numbered and reserved by the ticket. So that experience will be improved. And the temporary bleachers in Turn 1 offer another exciting alternative.
“Personally, I can’t wait to see those seats,” White said. “I think that will be one of the better vantage points for the race, because when (the racers) go around those turns — I’d never experienced that kind of racing before — and last year I was in awe of how fast they are going … It’s just wild.”
For White and Red Mile, taking on this AFT event was a huge unknown, but the exposure gained and the response from the fans has been gratifying.
“One of the most exciting moments was looking up at that grandstand and seeing it full,” White said. “Because, the reality is, it’s probably been a long time since Red Mile has had a hugely full grandstand.
“It was a really exciting moment for everyone (on staff) — people that have been here forever and people that are like me who are newer.”
AFT has grown rapidly in the last few years, adding more tracks like Red Mile and signing a new multi-year agreement with NBC Sports Network to air edited, tape-delayed shows just a week or two after the live event. Viewership is up over 60 percent this year, Grey said.
Gates will open at 2:30 p.m. Saturday with motorcycles entering the track for practices at 3:30 p.m. and continuing with qualifying and heats all afternoon leading up to the feature races in each of AFT’s divisions — singles and twins — late in the evening. The 15-lap singles final is scheduled for 9:20 p.m. The 25-lap twins final is set for 9:50 p.m. There will be a vendor midway for fans and a giveaway of two Indian Motorcycles for Red Mile Rewards members registered.
Mees has been dominating the twins division on his Indian Motorcycle with five wins on the more powerful of the AFT’s two bike classes. Dan Bromley leads the singles class with two wins on his Kawasaki.
If all goes as expected Saturday, Red Mile and AFT officials both said they will be looking to lock in a multi-year deal.
“We want to come on the same date, get some good date equity and just make the first week of June Red Mile Flat Track Racing for a long time,” Grey said.
Indian Motorcycle Red Mile
When: Gates open at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Racing continues through late evening.
Where: Red Mile
Tickets: $30-$125 online at Showclix.com/event/red-mile-2018