Fans gather in the stands at Speedway 95 in Hermon in 2014. Credit: Terry Farren / BDN

Last year’s auto racing season for Del Merritt, owner of Hermon’s Speedway 95, was challenging.

It was not allowed to have fans in the grandstands until late July due to COVID-19 restrictions, and when it was allowed to have fans, only 200 were allowed.

A year later, Merritt said Speedway 95 is averaging 400-500 fans in the grandstands for Saturday night and Wacky Wednesday’s race cards.

That’s still a long way off from the 3,000 people the venue can hold.

Auto racing is back this year with full capacity turnouts, following Gov. Janet Mills’ lifting the final restrictions on May 24, but venues aren’t seeing sold-out crowds. Wiscasset Speedway was the first of the state’s four operating race tracks to open on April 24. Speedway 95, Oxford Plains Speedway and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough all opened on May 1.

Merritt said he has been a little disappointed at the car counts and attendance so far but is hopeful that now that school is out, the numbers will go up.

“It is cheaper than hiring a babysitter,” said Merritt, who lowered the cost of admission back to 2019 prices in hopes more families will attend now that school is out.

But he also pointed out that he had no idea what to expect coming off last season’s pandemic campaign.

“You are always hoping to have more cars and more fans,” he said.

His Late Model division, featuring the fastest and most expensive cars, has had a drop-off in numbers. There were 12-14 cars a year ago. This year, there have been between eight and 10.

But his Street Stock class, which features street vehicles accessible to the general public, has averaged over 20 cars.

“I think it’s the best Street Stock class in the state. They’re exciting to watch,” he said.

Andy Cusack, long-time owner of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, said his attendance numbers are climbing steadily after a slow start due to what he termed an understandable “public hesitancy” caused by the pandemic.

And his car counts are returning to pre-pandemic numbers. He said about one-third of his grandstands are full and he expects that to keep going up. They can hold 5,000 fans.  

Ken Minott, track promoter at Wiscasset Speedway, said its car counts and attendance have returned to pre-pandemic numbers. They are racing an hour earlier on Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m., and are attracting 1,400-1,500 to the grandstands.

Cusack has made a couple of major changes which have worked out nicely for him at Beech Ridge.

He moved his Thursday series to Saturday, and many races now start at 4 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Cusack has always been a proponent of having a good, short race card so the fans don’t get home too late. Even with as many as eight classes, Beech Ridge’s shows don’t last longer than three hours.

“The response has been overwhelming in favor of it,” Cusack said.