As race fans and drivers anxiously await the resumption of the 2020 race season, promoters are left facing some big unknowns when racing does return.
The coronavirus pandemic has left many Americans without a job. Some are temporarily displaced while others have been permanently let go. As the shut downs across the country lingers, there will be even more people added to each of those lists.
When racing finally resumes, the biggest unknown facing promoters is how many race fans will come back. Unlike major sports like the NBA, Major League Baseball, or even NASCAR, dirt track racing does not have TV contracts to fall back on to pay purses and staff. All local short tracks rely heavily on the front gate. Promoters are already wondering how many fans will not return because of lack of employment or even fear of fans wondering if they could catch the virus sitting in the crowded grandstands.
Major events like The Dream, Prairie Dirt Classic, World 100, and others will still see thousands of race fans jam the grandstands, assuming those events take place this year. Those events could lose some fans, but will be dictated by where the virus is at those times.
Regional events and weekly race programs are where the fears lie. Until the season gets back under way, no one really knows how turnouts will be for these events. Promoters are asking themselves those same questions.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” said Tazewell Speedway owner Gary Hall. “Part of me thinks the fans will come out strong because there hasn’t been much to do and people will want to get out. But some people might not have the money to go to the races if they’ve lost their job. I don’t know how many people that live near us have lost their job.”
Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Georgia has one of the strongest weekly racing programs in the region. They also host their share of special events. Mia Green, daughter of track owner Mickey Swims, says they are facing the possibility it could take fans some time to come back with safety being their top priority.
“I feel the coronavirus will not be a short term problem, but one with lingering effects,” Green said by email. “Fans and drivers will most likely be ready to return to racing, but will want to be assured they are safe to do so. Our goal will be to rebuild that trust. Then communicate the steps we are implementing to keep them safe.”
“Also, the vast majority have been out of work for months therefore the loss of income will be a huge factor on attendance. With all the doom and gloom, it is important to remember this is a temporary pause. During this uncertain time the health and well-being of our fans, staff, and drivers is what’s most important.”
Even special event tracks are faced with uncertainty. With typical higher ticket prices for such events, even tracks like Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Kentucky face unknowns of their own.
“I think a lot will depend on how long this goes on,” said Richmond Raceway owner Bill Lupinos. “If everyone is out of work for a long time, and financially strapped when we can open the gates, it will create a much smaller turnout than we would have normally. If we can get back to life as we know it in early May, it won’t have as big of an effect.”
Lupinos added with most special events on this year’s schedule that fans have already made plans to attend those events and will be able to do so.
“We have a specials only feel to our schedule this season, with only one ‘regular show’,” Lupinos added. “So I’m hoping whatever we have already scheduled will be a big event that will bring out the fans.”
All sporting events will remain in a holding pattern until each state’s governors issue guidelines for all workers to return to work. Even then, it appears the ease in restrictions will be gradual and may delay the resumption of racing even longer. Some states will “open” things back up sooner than others, which will provide its own set of challenges, especially for racing series.
No one has seen this in our lifetime. Decisions that are made for the health of Americans, the economy, and for sporting events are being played out in real time. Things are rapidly changing as more information becomes available. It is making for the most unique racing season this country has ever seen.