Showbiz mogul Feld eager to get hands dirty

Elements needed to produce successful performances by Siegfried & Roy, dancing pachyderms and an ice-skating Goofy can be the same ones used to make a profound impact on the future of American motor sports.

The link is entertainment impresario Kenneth Feld, whose family-owned Feld Entertainment in September completed a $175 million purchase of AMA Supercross, Monster Jam monster truck properties and other minor racing series from Live Nation to create Feld Motor Sports.

Supercross and Monster Jam are the major assets added to the Feld portfolio, which includes Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice.

"One of the reasons I really love motor sports and was so excited about this acquisition is that (racing) works any place in the world," Feld said last week before hosting his first AMA Supercross finale at Sam Boyd Stadium.

"At these events, if you have heart and soul and emotion, you don't need to understand the language. Anything I've ever done that has worked ... you could watch the show and be enthralled without understanding the language."

That explains why linguistic wizards such as NASCAR's Ward Burton and drag racing's John Force are so popular.

Among Feld's productions was Siegfried & Roy, which he helped start in 1990 at the Frontier and later took to the Mirage. Few in the world have his experience in producing traveling shows, which simply describes any national racing series.

Feld said the discretionary value of the entertainment dollar tightens as the economy weakens. Affordable tickets are as important as a well-produced, fast-paced event.

Most tracks hosting events this year in NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association pro drag racing tour have offered ticket discounts but have still experienced drops in ticket sales.

Supercross and Monster Jam business, however, is up 18 percent this year, Feld said.

The Supercross event at Sam Boyd Stadium sold out two days in advance, and 39,506 attended -- and that was one of the smallest crowds of the series' 17-event season. The Monster Jam at the stadium in March drew about 35,000.

Feld doesn't take credit for those events' success. He knows Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel Communications) nurtured the series' development over 20 years. He plans to expand Supercross east and Monster Jam worldwide.

Apparently, axle grease and grease paint have commonality.

"Your core customer is not enough to grow an industry. You have to broaden it," Feld said.

Part of his motor sports purchase was the International Hot Rod Association, the drag racing series that ranks a distant second to the NHRA. While he said he has no plans to buy the NHRA, he has plans to elevate and greatly improve the IHRA.

"Drag racing is so technical, and I don't know if the general consumer knows it. When we can make them understand that, then drag racing will become more meaningful to the public," Feld said.

"We want to make it more entertaining. We've been talking to the consumers this year to find out what they really want."

He said that could mean more TV coverage of what it takes to get the dragsters to the starting line -- not just what happens for the five seconds after that.

Feld took over the business after his father, Irvin, died in 1984. The company has revitalized the legacy of the circus and ice shows. It has exhibited the diversity to win three Tony awards for Broadway productions.

That might sound like the most unlikely of resumes for a race promoter, but a diverse perspective is what is needed in motor sports.

Feld sees his motor sports division as vastly uncharted ground. He saw unlimited potential Saturday when he looked onto the Sam Boyd floor through the twinkling eyes of a fan. His vision wasn't clouded by smoke from pre-race pyrotechnics, just like his father could see better days through the dust under the Big Top in the 1950s when circuses were struggling.

Good promoters produce good shows whether they feature dancers, singers or jugglers.

Or race car drivers.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at throughout the week.