I know where you are coming from. When I first started, I was in F-Stock and getting smoked. But, like Scott said, I compared myself to peers like Keith Beaver. Heck, once I moved to different classes, I kept comparing myself to Keith and it was a blast. I only mention that because the root cause for lack of retention in our sport regionally is the lack of connection competitors have to the group early on in their 'racing career'. Steve M. talks all the time about the social aspect of the SCCA and I have to say he is right. We race for less than six minutes a day, and yet there are are thousands and thousands of people who do it every weekend somewhere in the US. It can't be only that six minutes that keeps people coming back. Its much more.
One of the focus areas I had when I was Solo Director was to improve retention. Every event we had about 10% who raised their hands and said it was their first visit. But, as the season wore on, we didn't see increases in attendance because those 'first-timers' didn't connect with our sport. The image I have in my head is of that competitor who just finished a run, is excited, but just stands next to his car in grid looking around because he doesn't know anybody. That is the guy who won't be back. The social aspect... the competitor/friend who comes over and slaps him on the back and says 'great job, what was your time' is the true glue that keeps him (or her) coming back.
It is all about the atmosphere we set as a club. Be positive and help people understand that our sport is much more than having the most expensive car. Its true, there is a divergence eventually of those who go beyond the regional level and those who stay local only. Small, simple adjustments can make worlds of difference.
You mentioned SMS... When SMS started we made a concerted effort to go out and find people and introduce them to our sport. Ron Conrad went crazy contacting car clubs and cruising Coliseum like crazy. That is why we go those people. We had a hard time keeping them because we weren't able to build the relationships with them. SMS got pretty big, but most of the competition came from those people who found someone comparable to themselves and then set their sites on them.
Build relationships and don't stop. That is the secret (in my opinion). :)
I agree with Todd about this. I never really thought about it but that is probably what kept me in the sport early on. My first event was actually the solo school and in the process of taking the school I got to meet some of the better drivers in the region I already knew some of the people running so had someone to talk to about how I was doing. I also realized when I read this that I have done what he is saying to some new drivers in the past, in Fort Wayne I did it with the gentlemen that drive the old black mustang (sorry, I suck with names so I can't rememberr their names). They show up at practically every event we put on. I know I have done it with new people in other regions also and have seen those same people at later events. Now last year that might not have helped alot just because I hate to say it but we were a little off our game. This year I am seeing some definate improvement on that already. I think if we, the regulars, take the time when we see a new face to go up to them and strike up a conversation with them. Offer them some tips on how to drive the course and give them some feedback on how they are doing. Let's make them feel like we care they are there. Guys like Tom Miller, Mike DeArmond, Travis and Chuck did that with me and I am definately still here.