If you were a high school or collegiate track athlete, you likely remember what it felt like to prepare for the start of an important race. You positioned your feet at the starting line and started pounding the cinders or rubber surface (depending on your age) as fast as you could once you heard the starting gun. Every breath and step got you closer to beating the competitor next to you and winning the race.
While running, chances are you never thought about how the track was built or what materials were used to create the surface. But this aspect of the sport intrigued Sam Fisher, who is the owner of Fisher Tracks, a track innovation and installation business located in Boone, Iowa.
Getting a Running Start
Sam’s grandparents owned and operated a small garden store. As box stores became more popular, they evolved into installing irrigation systems primarily around athletic facilities. Although most tracks were cinder tracks at that time, his grandparents and uncle became one of the pioneering companies installing track surfaces using granulated rubber in 1973.
As for Sam, he attended and graduated from the University of Washington with a business major. He went on to law school at Northwestern at Lewis & Clark, accepted a position with a bank and also started his own residential construction company. Sam ran track and cross country in high school and has always been a long-distance runner. In 1982, he decided to join the family track business and moved to Iowa to manage track installation operations in the Central U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean.
In 1997 Sam became a Certified Track Builder. The Certified Track Builder (CTB) program was developed by the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) to establish consistent, high-level, professional standards and to improve the practice of track construction. Certification candidates must pass a comprehensive examination on track construction and maintenance, as well as fulfill a set of prescribed standards for experience that demonstrates a high level of knowledge in track construction.
“I was one of the original small group of Certified Track Builders,” Sam said. “There are now over 40 of us across the country. We have governing bodies and specific parameters that we must follow, whether it’s the National High School Federation, NCAA or World Athletics.”
In 1999, due to the retirement of various members within the family business, Sam bought out the part of the company he had been managing and renamed the business Fisher Tracks, Inc. The company has grown and prospered under Sam’s leadership. Fisher Tracks has 42 employees across the country, including his wife, who is his partner and administrative assistant; and son, Jordan, who is also a Certified Track Builder. Several key office and warehouse personnel are located in Boone, as well as numerous foreman and crew members from across the country. Together they complete more than 100 projects each year, including having approximately 85 tracks in Iowa now.
“Even through Covid, supply chain issues, increased costs, and inflation, Fisher Tracks has continued to grow; installing over 100 projects again in 2022,” Sam said. “We like to have an ongoing relationship with our customers and want to be there to answer questions and provide maintenance information.”
In other words, they want to be the go-to track company of choice.
“It’s so rewarding to provide a smaller community with a track — something they can be proud of without breaking the bank,” Sam said. “Everyone from the school district to the community is so happy. It’s nice to stand back and look at the project we accomplished together.”
Installing Tracks Is No Easy Business
Many schools will bid out a full stadium project, with bleachers, lights, concession stands and parking lots. Fisher Tracks prefers to bid and specialize in the track portion when bidding these projects. When the company takes on a design/build track project, they hire subcontractors to build the track foundation and then crews will install the rubber surface on the track. There are a number of track surfacing options, and Sam, along with the company’s two other Certified Track Builders, guide their customers through the decision-making process.
Once Fisher Tracks is awarded the project, they follow their own precise specifications when installing the track. On some design-build track projects, Sam writes all of the specifications to meet the school’s desires for the facility.
“The track has to be very uniform so that no athlete has an unfair advantage over the others,” Sam explained. “Plus, the surface must be built just right. It needs to be soft, but not so much that the runners’ legs go dead or have repetitive injuries from a surface that is too hard.”
The weather and temperature are also important factors, since the conditions have to be almost perfect for the installation process.
“We’ve had plenty of challenges arise due to weather and our small window of installation,” Sam said.
Overall, Fisher Tracks has accomplished a lot in its 50 years in business. It has over 35 American Sports Builders Association Outstanding Facilities of the Year awards, including several Distinguished Outdoor Track Facility awards. Sam also is a recipient of an Industry Merit Award, which is presented to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) and the industry. ASBA stated that Sam has, over the years:
Been active in ASBA as a member of the Board of Directors
- Track Division President and Association Chairman
- Spoken at meetings
- Reviewed technical articles
- Helped edit and revise the ASBA’s publication, Running Tracks: A Construction and Maintenance Manual.
- Is the chairman of the Association’s Certification Committee, and
- Has been a member of the delegation that meets with both the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations to discuss rule changes as they pertain to the design and construction of athletic facilities.
Sam enjoys working hard, continually learning and growing and appreciates a banking partner with the same values.
Sprinting to Success With the Help of Northwest Bank
“To manage a sizable company, Fisher Tracks needs good business partners,” Sam said. “Since track surfacing installation is a very seasonal business as schools all want their projects completed after school lets out in the summer and before football practice starts.”
This means Fisher Tracks’ income stream is seasonal as well. It requires a great banking relationship.
“I started with a local bank, but I realized that they didn’t understand the business lending side of things,” Sam stated. “The first time I met with Doug Ragaller, who is now the Regional Bank President at Northwest Bank in Ames, Iowa, he took the time to get to know me, the business and to help it continue to grow. Other banks would see our financials in the spring and be shocked because we are a seasonal company and have little income during our off months, but not Northwest Bank.”
Because of such a great relationship with Doug Ragaller over the past years, Fisher Tracks has moved all their business banking needs to Northwest Bank: from payroll to their credit cards. Sam also reaches out to Doug for advice.
“Northwest Bank has been really helpful and all of their people are so knowledgeable and willing to help us meet our financial objectives,” Sam explained. “They provide sound financial advice and services as needed for long term success.”
Since the company’s trucks are on the road 500,000 to 580,000 miles a year, Sam needs to buy two or three new vehicles every year just to keep his fleet dependable.
“Cash flow is critical in the construction business and Northwest Bank has been very helpful on how to structure our lending notes to buy the vehicles,” Sam said.
Our Northwest Bank commercial banking team was able to help Fisher Tracks grow its business. Contact a Commercial Banker today to see how we can help you with all your business needs.
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