Do you remember your last awards ceremony? Many off-road race awards ceremonies go something like this:

The promoter posts the results of your race after enough folks have finished.

About 30-minutes later, they ask everyone to gather around the podium.

They then call up racers by category, hand out medals, then take the podium picture.

When all the medals have been handed out, they then thank everyone for coming.

The race is over, everyone leaves, and the race staff starts to tear down the last of the race venue.

That’s it. The show is over.

Some of this is dictated by the race promoter’s permit. They have to be off the venue premises by a certain time or it counts as a second day.

Other’s do this because it is the perfect segue to telling everyone to go home without having to tell everyone to go home.

Those that built the race have been there all day, and possibly the day before as well.

They’re tired too. But they cannot go home until everything is packed up and the venue to cleared.

That means all those pesky racers need to go.

In the words of Semisonic, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”.

However, if you love statistics (don’t all race promoters love statistics?), then you would be fascinated to know that the above story is what some might call “a lost opportunity”.

It turns out that racers don’t come to your race for the race.

What? That doesn’t make sense!

True. I should probably clarify that statement by saying that your race is not the ONLY reason they come to your race.

Your actual race is not the number one reason.

In a survey of 500 racers from six different events, the number one reason racers come to your race — get this — is for the community!

The community?

They come to hang out and socialize with those that enjoy their sport.

Are you kidding me?

Nope. It was the number one reason, with location and course in distant second and third place.

I know that it’s not a huge sampling, and not completely scientific, but it is a very good indicator of a trend present in off-road racing.

Ask yourself why YOU go to races (if you still race).

Do you go to do the actual race?

Sure. But do you go directly home afterwards?

Chances are you don’t.

Why not?

Ah-ha! Got you!

If you’re like most off-road racers, you don’t come to see the same assortment of racers win stuff.

You come to hang out and socialize with those that enjoy your sport.

The same reasons you stick around after someone else’s race, are the same reasons your customers stick around after yours.

The race is the experience they undergo to establish their credibility and gain entry into the off-road racing tribe.

But what good is experience and tribe acceptance, if there’s no one around to share it with?

This is where the transformation of your awards ceremony into an awards party comes in.

Imagine this the next time you host a race:

At the end of the race, you invite your racers over to the post-race party.

Post-race party?

Yes! You might have race results posted by then — or maybe you don’t.

When there’s music, food, and places to sit, most racers won’t really care if results are still being worked on.

Food?

Nothing fancy. Think meatball spaghetti, vegetarian spaghetti, some garlic bread, and a mix of soda-pop and water.

Delicious!

Just enough to give your racer’s warm bellies and big smiles.

Then, about 30 minutes later, giving all the racers a chance to cross the finish line, you ask everyone to pay attention to your race director.

What starts with a “thank you for coming” prologue, quickly turns into the first prize give away.

Prize giveaway?

Yes! You give racers who didn’t win, a chance to win prizes!

I like prizes!

Again, nothing fancy. If you cannot get your sponsors to cough up any money to help you cover your costs, chances are they WILL give you donations and discounts.

Use THOSE as your prizes!

Racers like winning free stuff. Pull names out of a hat to keep it fair, or even try physical contests (e.g. push-ups or balancing on one leg) for anything expensive.

You could also make parts of your race course consist of mini-contests.

It’s the same idea that some of the road sports have.

This works best for adventure races that are made up of multiple disciplines throughout the race. But it could also be for mountain bike and trail running if you consider the fastest to complete a section of the course, like a really big hill.

Whatever you do, make sure everyone knows BEFORE the race, and try to make it fun.

Trying to use silly parentheticals like “best team name”, “best kit colors”, or “racers that traveled the furthest from home” are also big winners for deciding who to give prizes to.

Then, and only then, do you start calling up racers by category, handing out medals, then taking podium pictures.

This the is part most racers understand. But this time you’ve warmed up the crowd.

The old awards ceremony would have produced polite applause for each group.

In the party atmosphere, however, especially with a warmed up crowd, don’t be surprised if you get great applause, whoops, and maybe even some cheers.

It’s the same approach late night talk shows and sitcoms use with live audiences.

If you warm up the crowd, everything said afterwards is received a whole lot better.

You could even break up each category with another prize give away.

Make it unpredictable!

Keep them guessing!

But when all the medals have been handed out, and you’ve thanked everyone for coming for the third of fourth time, the party is not over.

Not over? Why not?

Because the party continues!

You could bring out some fresh food, turn the music back on, and give the gathering another hour or so to allow racers are hang out, tell stories, talk with each other, and slowly peel off.

Only after all the food is gone, the racers are gone, or both, does the party end.

What about my permit?

Build this time into your permit.

By making the party a part of your schedule, then it’s already baked into your plan from the very beginning.

Wouldn’t that be a much better experience then “here are the winners, now go home”?

Can you see the difference?

For most beginner, novice, or even veteran off-road racing athletes, the podium is a once-in-a-while event.

Some may never stand on it.

The hard truth is that not everyone can be a winner during every race, and most racers accept this fact.

With an awards party, however, you can make far more racers feel like a winners.

Remember, this is an event for everyone that comes, not just for the winners.

It is your job as a race promoter to reach out to those racers that race for other reasons other then the podium.

You need to capitalize on their need to hang out with their racing tribe, by allowing them the time and space to share their racing war stories.

They need the opportunity to really enjoy the exclusive acceptance that comes with being a part of the off-road racing community.

It is a huge factor in their enjoyment of your race.

By turning the end of all your races into a party, you maximize their experience by giving them time to socialize with their tribe.

Socialization makes good memories, and those good memories will include your race as the reason.

You might think that turning your awards ceremony into an awards party is a very different approach to what race promoters traditionally do at the end of their races.

But this very simple change has the potential to establish the environment that creates very happy customers.

Marketing research shows that if you can make your customers happy, you have a much greater chance of turning them into customers for life.

However, if you need more proof, go ask Disney.

Now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

@MerchantsofDirt -- Creative strategy dragon, podcaster, author, speaker, WordPress developer, outdoor race promoter, and US Navy Veteran. Current products: Reckoneer, Merchants of Dirt Podcast, and Get Lost Racing Podcast.