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It was supposed to be a busy early weekend on the Maine stock car racing circuit.
Wiscasset Speedway was set to hold its first event of the season on Saturday, and the Honey Badger Bar & Grill Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model 150-lap race was scheduled for Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Both have been postponed as the state’s racetracks comply with Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order that has kept nonessential businesses closed to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Mills’ directive last month meant the suspension of most sports and outdoor activities through at least April 30.
It has left Maine stock cars parked and tracks closed down.
“There is no way we can open the racetrack,” Speedway 95 owner Del Merritt said of the social distancing guidelines that ask people to stay at least six feet apart.
“You might be able to spread people out at Loudon [New Hampshire Motor Speedway] where they can hold 100,000 people. But you can’t at a local short track,” Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney said.
“Part of the excitement is standing together, cheering and bantering back and forth,” said Haney, who conceded that racing can’t begin until it can be made safe for participants and fans.
Holding races without spectators is not an option, because no fans and no concessions would mean tracks would lose money.
“We don’t have lucrative TV deals [like pro sports],” Beech Ridge Motor Speedway owner Andy Cusack said.
Cusack hopeful the impact of the coronavirus will be reduced over time and enable racing and other activities to start up this summer. Beech Ridge is scheduled to open on May 2, then doesn’t have any races until May 23.
Merritt has contemplated the idea of maintaining social distancing in the grandstand at his track in Hermon if the governor’s guidelines are relaxed.
“We can hold 2,800 [spectators,] but maybe we could come up with a way to limit it to 400 or 500 and keep them six feet away from each other. Family members who live in the same house could sit together,” Merritt said.
“But just letting in 500 people isn’t going to pay the bills,” Cusack said.
Track owners know their short-term future will hinge on decisions made by Mills based on guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other healthcare experts.
Cusack said he has received a lot of calls and emails from drivers who just want to practice at the track.
“They may have a new car or motor or they have spent a lot of time working on their car during the winter and they wait to try it out,” Cusack said. “We’ll just have to see if the Governor loosens things up.”
Speedway 95’s planned starting date is May 9, with testing tentatively scheduled for May 2.
In South Dakota, two tracks are going forward with racing this weekend, but will not allow spectators at the events. The tracks banned fans in response to concerns raised by Gov. Kristi Noem and health officials about the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Spud Speedway in Caribou has only one race scheduled this year, a PASS North SLM event on Aug. 9.
Haney is keeping his fingers crossed that the race can be held at Spud Speedway, which has hosted a PASS race each of the last two years. They have raised nearly $25,000 for the Feed the County charity to provide food for those in need.
“The food banks are going through money like crazy these days. There are so many people out of work,” said Haney, who would not want the race to potentially jeopardize anyone’s health.
Unity Raceway doesn’t have any races scheduled this season at this point. Owner Ralph Nason said Greg Veinote, who leased the track from Nason last year, isn’t doing so this year due to health reasons. Nason said he is involved in talks with a potential buyer.