WISCASSET — For now, the frustration locally remains the lack of any certainty regarding the future of the 2020 auto racing season in the state of Maine.
As New England neighbors New Hampshire and Vermont have opened tracks to racing — both with and without spectators in attendance — Maine’s speedways are still in wait-and-see mode. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway, Speedway 95 and Wiscasset Speedway are all holding open practice sessions on the weekends, limited strictly by time slots for various divisions.
As recently as 10 days ago, according to Wiscasset Speedway owner Vanessa Jordan, the most current proposal to state government was met with a request to examine the possibility of holding a race with no fans in attendance.
“It’s our three-legged stool philosophy, and ‘the fans’ are one of the legs of that stool,” Jordan said Wednesday. “Without them, there’s no sense to race. Without our drivers, there’s no sense to race. Without our speedway staff and community, there’s no sense to race.”
Wiscasset Speedway was scheduled to open in mid-April, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s reopening phases have pushed that off indefinitely. On Saturday, Wiscasset will hold its final of three open practice days.
Jordan said the first practice was poorly attended on June 6.
“We did poll some of the drivers just to get a feel for if racing without fans was something they were interested in,” Jordan said. “They had no interest in racing that way. Those fans are, in most cases, their families. That wouldn’t seem right.
“We cater to our community here.”
At Oxford Plains, track vice president Mike Mayberry said he’s hoping to hear back from state officials with the hopes of holding a race at the .375-mile oval as soon as June 27. Unlike Wiscasset, Oxford’s most recent proposal includes racing without spectators.
“We’re working on a plan to try and open without fans,” Mayberry said. “I haven’t heard back solidly, but we feel pretty good about it. We’re going to try and set up (an internet streaming broadcast).
“Our goal is to get everybody racing as soon as possible.”
In New Hampshire, tracks like White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock were allowed to open on June 6 with no fans on attendance. Last weekend. WMMP held an American-Canadian Tour race and the state government there allowed the facility to open to 50 percent capacity for fans.
This Sunday, the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) will head back to WMMP for a race in front of fans. PASS raced at WMMP on June 7, a race people could purchase on pay-per-view basis via the internet.
“The feedback I got from the fans that watched it was that they seemed to enjoy it,” Mayberry said. “Obviously, they want to be at the track and we want them there to enjoy all of the things that go into this.”
Not all tracks are warm to the idea of racing with no spectators or a reduced number of spectators. At Beech Ridge, Maine’s lone NASCAR-sanctioned facility, track owner Andy Cusack sees too many challenges with opening to only 50 percent capacity in the grandstands.
“These are unprecedented times, and we’re navigating these new circumstances with NASCAR and our race teams,” Cusack said. “Even if the governor opens us at 50 percent capacity, it’s going to be difficult and unlikely to make that work, at least without some substantial financial concessions from teams and staff.
“We don’t like to be in that position — and it’s not unlike Major League Baseball, just on a smaller scale.”
Jordan said she was approached in early April by a company about the possibility of having Wiscasset Speedway races streamed via pay-per-view, but the track was not interested.
Even if Wiscasset and other Maine tracks were allowed to open to limited crowds initially, Jordan would still want some assurance that it would be a short-term solution toward opening up her grandstands to the 3,000 spectators it can hold before the summer is over.
“We can do the social distancing, we can do the same things with our concessions that takeout places can do,” she said. “We did say we were willing to try the 50 percent thing for two or three weeks, if that’s what it takes, but even that would be tough.”
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