One area track is already ready to drop the green flag while another is proceeding with a little more caution.
Can-Am Speedway in LaFargeville announced on Facebook on Thursday that fans would be welcomed back to the track at 33% capacity starting on April 9. The news comes in time for the SuperDIRTcar big-block modified Thunder in the 1,000 Islands event on April 10. Track owner Tyler Bartlett was glad to hear the news that his track could open its doors to racing fans.
“We’re thrilled to move forward with fans,” Bartlett said.
The track did pay-per-view races behind closed doors with only drivers and limited pit crews being allowed on the grounds. The July 2 Pabst Shootout had 850 spectators attend, but the track was given a warning by the state.
Can-Am decided to go back to the previous pay-per-view model for the rest of the season to avoid any issues. However, there was a silver lining as the track proved it could handle fans in a COVID-19 era.
“I think (Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman) Scott Gray said that if any place could pull off an event, it’s Can-Am Speedway,” Bartlett said.
According to Bartlett, the track will be able to hold 1,500 fans in the 4,000-seat track when racing does commence. Many fans have already reached out to Bartlett about wanting to attend events at the track.
“A lot of people have already messaged me about coming out,” Bartlett said. “We’re going to do a pre-registration list and we’ll have temperature checks, along with social distancing and masks.”
Can-Am will also have Plexiglas installed at food counters and make sure employees are following Center for Disease Control Guidelines.
The fans are needed to help the track hand out the large prize purse that the SuperDIRT series pays its drivers. The circuit brings out the best drivers like SuperDIRT Week winner Matt Sheppard, Larry Wight, Billy Decker and local favorites, including Edwards native Tim Fuller and Watertown’s Billy Dunn, who won the 2013 main event at SuperDIRT week.
“It’s the cream of the crop that shows up to these events,” Bartlett said. “We’ll see the 35-40 big-blocks and 50-60 Sportsman cars at these.”
The track will still hold events on pay-per-view for the time being, with the SuperDIRT race being held on DIRTVision.com like the OktoberFAST event Oct. 9. Weekly cards last season were on the Dirt Track Digest website.
The main concern will be if the weather cooperates and the track will be ready for the April 10 event. This winter has seen plenty of snow and cold temperatures that could make the early spring start date a dicey one. However, Bartlett is optimistic to have the elements as his primary concern.
“It’s nice to have just the weather to worry about like a normal start of the season,” Bartlett said. “We have 18-20 dates to make money for the season and keep the momentum going.”
Evans Mills Raceway Park owner Peggy Gill is a little more cautious about opening her track to fans. Thursday’s announcement allowed for amusement parks and outdoor recreation centers to open at 33%. However, she wants the language to be more specific for the track. The North American Industry Classification System (NACIS) code for auto racing tracks is 711212 and the code specified for codes 713110, 713120 and 713990. She has been in contact with local representatives like State Sen. Patty Ritchie and Stephen Hunt of Empire State Development to try to get a clearer picture of when she can open her facility.
“It’s definitely good news, but we just want concrete confirmation,” Gill said.
Even if Thursday’s announcement doesn’t specifically apply to race tracks, Gill said that they’ll be the next in line when they’re given the go-ahead. She’s hoping to hear a more definitive answer about her track’s opening status Monday.
“I have a feeling we’ll be next if we’re not already approved,” Gill said.
Evans Mills said they’ll be glad to operate at the 33% benchmark. She pointed out that the track holds 3,000 fans and has 70 acres, allowing for fans to spread out and social distance. The track also has 75 hospitality suites that can keep a family unit or group of spectators away from other fans if they have concerns about the virus.
“We think those would be very attractive to a family that wants to come to the racetrack,” Gill said.
Gill also pointed out that her employees are ready to follow any guidelines handed out by the state. Once the track gets the guidelines, they’ll be able to forge ahead.
“We’re optimistic and hopefully the guidelines are enough for us to go to the sponsors.” Gill said.
Evans Mills, Adirondack International Speedway, Oswego Speedway and Mohawk International Raceway in Akwesasne did not run events last season. The state recently allowed for indoor seating arenas of 10,000 or more to operate at 10% capacity.