Can-Am Speedway was the first. Others hope to follow.
Now that the first race at a local track this season is in the books — Friday’s live-streamed event in front of empty stands at Can-Am Speedway in LaFargeville — attention turns to what’s next for area speedways looking to revive their seasons after the coronavirus pandemic erased April and May schedules.
Here is what is in the planning stages for tracks around the north country and in Oswego County:
The LaFargeville-based track pulled off one of the first successful race nights in the state on June 5. Opening night brought 130 cars from places as far away as Vermont and Western New York even though spectators were limited to crew members and some driver families who had to practice social distancing procedures. Fans were allowed to buy the show on the Dirt Track Digest web site for $19.99, which was met with overwhelming approval.
“We heard our race teams, sponsors, and our amazing fans (who supported us on pay-per-view) had a blast (Friday) night at our season opener,” the track’s Facebook page announced.
Can-Am plans to run another card at 7 p.m. Friday, which will also be available on the same web site. Races will be run in the 358-modifed, sportsman, pro stock, thunder car and mod lite divisions.
The track also showed off improvements that were made during the extended off-season. Can-Am owner Tyler Bartlett said the fans appreciated all the hard work put into the facility.
“Everyone loved the improvements and said the place looks 10 times better,” Bartlett said.
The June 6 go-kart opener also proved to be a rousing success as 120 participants participated and came from as far away as Albany, Bartlett said.
The track has no plans to run shows on pay-per-view without fans and they’ll wait until they’re permitted to have spectators before opening the season. Track owner Peggy Gill said she wants to make sure the track doesn’t contribute to a rise in cases of COVID-19.
She’s been in contact with Jefferson County officials about when and under what conditions she could reopen. She added she’d be happy with even some fans in the stands.
“We have a lot of seating and I’d be over the moon if we could have 50-percent capacity,” Gill said.
Gill thinks that people will make it to the track once approval is given. She credited fans and sponsors for keeping alive the enthusiasm from last season.
“The racers and the drivers will come because we have a dedicated group of fans,” Gill said.
The track has allowed closed practices, made by appointment only, so racers can test their cars. The number of people and racers per day are limited to insure minimal interaction.
New Adirondack International Speedway general manager Todd Thomas is itching to go and wants to start the season when he’s allowed. He’s waiting on word from Lewis County officials.
“As soon as I get the green light, I’m going,” Thomas said. “If I get run at a third-capacity or half-capacity, I want to get people in the bleachers.”
Thomas took over the general manager role at the New Bremen facility just a few weeks ago and is hoping to run events such as enduros and demolition derbies. He said the derbies should do well because of the Jefferson and Lewis County fairs being canceled this year.
AIS recently held a drivers meeting that was attended by nearly 40 people, which helped Thomas get ideas on what they wanted to see. Thomas said that they will be adding divisions that have been dropped over the last few years.
“We got a lot of feedback from the drivers and we’re hoping to pick up some racers with the new classes,” Thomas said.
The track’s Facebook page said they’ll be looking to have practice Saturday.
Mohawk International Raceway was scheduled to start on May 15 before the COVID-19 restrictions but now the opening date for the track in Hogansburg remains unknown.
“Much like the race fans and all MIR competitors, the staff and management want to hear the roar of the engines and see the great racing action that we are all anticipating out of the 2020 season,” said track announcer Tim Baltz in a posting on the track web site. “However, lives are at risk with the current pandemic and to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, our racing family feels it is important for everyone’s safety, to stay home and follow the necessary guidelines from all officials across the country.”
Baltz, who is Canadian, also mentioned that many of the drivers and crew members who come to the speedway are from Canada and the border remains closed. He said about 25 or 26 regular racers at MIR come from Canada.
The Brewerton and Fulton Speedways in Oswego County, both of which are owned and operated by John Wight and his family, posted an update to each track’s web site and social media pages Monday stating that neither will race without spectators and both were hopeful to open with fans in July at a date to be determined.
The statement reiterated a joint status update from last week that expressed track management was encouraged by recent progress made in other areas of the state and will continue to monitor the situation with the hope of announcing a season start date soon if they are allowed to open with fans.
“Some New York tracks have begun to schedule and host spectator-free events and we are happy they have been granted permission to do so,” track management stated in its initial announcement last Thursday.
“The Governor’s office recently updated a somewhat ambiguous executive order to formally permit auto racing in that format. That is a great sign and anticipate it will lead to spectators being permitted in the near future, which is when we will open our doors.”
Each track had previously canceled all May events and intend to provide another update in the coming weeks.
The start of Oswego Speedway’s 70th anniversary season remains on hold and while track officials remain optimistic as they work toward a plan to open, a potential start date and format remained uncertain.
Oswego Speedway owner John Torrese provided the most recent update on May 20 when he announced the cancellation of races through this coming Saturday but stated that he and management was working with local officials on a plan to re-open. The scheduled June 20 races still appeared on the track’s web site on Tuesday.
The neighboring Oswego Kartway plans to open for members-only, non-points races Friday night without spectators and a series of COVID-19 related regulations that will be enacted until further notice.
Included in the rules is a limit of five people allowed to join each driver in their trailer, and while they can leave their spot in the pits to watch the race, they are encouraged to return to their trailer after watching the driver they arrived with. Masks will also be required to be worn by those on the premises.
Each race will have a maximum of 12 karts on the track at a given time, six feet will be required between people at the staging and exit station, and all CDC social-distance guidelines will be followed on the premises.
Sportswriters Cap Carey, Dan Mount and Josh St.Croix contributed to this report.