Drivers in the Hight Chevrolet 150 line up in front of the crowd before the start of a race at Speedway 95 in Hermon in 2014. Auto race tracks can now expand seating to up to 200 spectators with the latest coronavirus restrictions. Credit: Terry Farren | BDN

Del Merritt, owner of Hermon’s Speedway 95, said they were able to get 161 spectators into the grandstands for last Saturday night’s auto race card after Maine Governor Janet Mills eased the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on the state’s four tracks.

Tracks are now allowed to have as many as 200 spectators in the grandstands after several weeks without fans.

Speedway 95 can hold 3,000 in its grandstands, so 200 represents just 6.7 percent of capacity.

“But 200 is better than nothing,” Merritt said. “We had to jump through hoops to get it.”

“It’s something,” agreed Andy Cusack, the owner of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.

The track owners didn’t learn until late in the week that the spectator ban in the grandstands would be lifted to allow 200, so Cusack and Oxford Plains Motor Speedway owner Tom Maybury decided not to scramble around at the last minute to put people in the grandstand seats.

“We only had 24 hours to sell tickets so we did well to get 161,” Merritt said.

The tickets cost $15 apiece, producing $2,415 to help defray the costs of driver payouts and other expenses such as lighting, ambulance service, insurance, wrecker, employees wages and more.

Speedway 95 has already run four Wacky Wednesday race cards and three Saturday night events. This Wednesday will be the first time there will be fans in the grandstands for Wacky Wednesday racing.

Beech Ridge Motor Speedway won’t be racing this weekend because the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR Cup Series race is being held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday afternoon.

Cusack has already had two Saturday night race dates without fans, but said Beech Ridge will have its grandstand open for 200 spectators on Aug. 8 when its weekly racing series resumes.

In order to save money, Cusack decided to combine his Thursday Thunder and Saturday NASCAR Nite race divisions into one Saturday race card. Racing will begin at 3 p.m.

“By consolidating and racing on one day instead of two, especially with the restrictions, you cut some of the expenses like insurance, security, staffing,” Cusack said.

And by racing in the afternoon, it saves him a hefty lighting bill.

He said the car counts have been “steady” but admitted that they would probably have double the car counts for his Thursday Thunder classes if they raced on Thursday.

“A lot of our drivers race on Thursday because they can’t race on Saturday due to work or family obligations,” Cusack said.

An Oxford Plains Speedway spokesperson said she doesn’t know if they have decided to have fans in the grandstands when they race again on Saturday. The Oxford Accelerated Series races beginning at noon and its Oxford Championship Series classes starting at 5 p.m.

Oxford Plains Speedway has been holding its series races since June 27.

Wiscasset Speedway owners Richard and Vanessa Jordan decided not to open until spectators were allowed in the grandstands, so they will be the last track to drop the green flag when they open for the season this Saturday at 6 p.m.

Cusack said allowing fans in the grandstands won’t make a major difference financially because children 12 and under get in free. It is $12 for adults.

Speedway 95 charges $15 for all ages on Saturdays and $10 on Wednesday night. It used to allow children to attend for free but Merritt said with only 200 seats available, they have no choice but to charge for all seats.

There will be strict guidelines, including allowing just 50 people in four different sections of the grandstands.

Social distancing protocols must be adhered to and each track has its own standards.

For example, Speedway 95 is using portable toilets rather than restrooms and there aren’t any concessions in the grandstands area. Fans are encouraged to bring their own food.

Cusack said Beech Ridge has enough room to keep its restrooms and concession stands safely open.

Tickets for Speedway 95 must be ordered online, but Beech Ridge spectators will be able to purchase tickets at the gate.