By Rocky Ragusa
The 2019 racing season proved to be an emotional roller coaster for Fairbury’s Jeff Curl. Following a successful kidney transplant surgery with his sister, Michelle, Curl was on the sidelines for over a month. Returning at the Fairbury Summer National race,Curl never felt 100 % until making his first ever trip for the World 100. Not having high expectations, the team used it as a learning experience and a vacation. Closing the year at Tri-City,Kokomo,and the St. Louis Dome race, Curl felt he was regaining his form and also gaining a new legion of fans.
“ We made the feature at Tri-City and Kokomo and were pleased with the finishes. At the Dome, there were mechanical issues all weekend,” Curl spoke. “I had a lot of people come up to me, telling me they had heard about the surgery,supported us, and got exposure thru the media."
Not only winning a feature race is always tough to do in the Central Illinois region, plus the work that goes into obtaining new marketing partners and keeping existing sponsors. Curl lost several of his sponsors and wasn’t sure if he would be able to run a full schedule for the 2020 year.
“ I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it,” recalls Curl. “ We got a shot in the arm when Edeleman Inc. came on board. They liked everything they had heard about our team through all of the media exposure I had gotten. We were really geared up for the year and then the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Active within the community and the use of social media has also been beneficial for Curl. Coaching baseball, basketball, and softball, along with the very popular virtual racing, Curl feels that has also helped with sponsors.
“ There are a lot of race drivers in the area and you have to figure out ways to help market yourself,” Curl spoke. “ It starts here at home. I enjoy coaching kids aged 6 to 16. There parents get to know me and it turns into a good relationship with the parents and kids. Some will have a small business and ask me if they can help out. They see me as someone that will take the time to help in the community. They help our team out and we bring in new fans to the sport. I have also commented on races on facebook, plus I have done some online racing. During these times when you can’t race, it helps to keep your social presence up. You have to keep your name and sponsors out there.”
As Governor Pritzker continues to keep the state on lock down, it has resulted in many in the racing industry unable to operate their businesses. Curl remains hopeful racing will return this year.
“ We will get back to that point. I don’t want people to rush back into it where they might get sick or tracks that come back too early and can’t financially have to close down. From my standpoint, my racing program is a small business and I want to go racing as soon as we can. I want the sport to be around 10 years from now, whether I am racing or not. DIRTCar came out with a memo on when racing returns. Something that stood out was the no fans rules. I don’t know how a track can make it with a purse if there is no other additional income, like concessions and limiting what can be sold. Also, the time structure of entering the speedway grounds and exiting at a certain time. That is not Fairbury. It has never been racing done at 10 and see you later. I want us to be able to keep that post race, pit experience. You need that in order to keep the sport growing. People like to visit all the drivers after the races, buy shirts, have cookouts, socialize, and keep that comradery. I have to thank Edeleman Inc. for coming on board, along with Greg Kurtenbach State Farm, Pam Deaton Health Markets, and Pontiac RV as my primary sponsors. I have associate sponsors and many are small businesses. it is tough on them now and we will play it by ear if it's right for them. i don't want to take money from them to help on the race car when they are struggling. Whether they can help out or not, we will continue to support them."