PORT ROYAL, PA — With the recent threat of the COVID-19 virus, local, state and national sports have all come to a screeching halt. The local motorsports scene and racing statewide in the Commonwealth appears to now have all been affected as “social distancing” and unnecessary gatherings are discouraged in hopes to reduce the spread.
But a few Central Pennsylvania dirt track staples fought through the fear and scrutiny to hold very successful and well attended race events in late February and as recently as last weekend. Mechanicsburg was the site of a very popular opening day race for the Williams Grove Speedway.
Featuring 410 cubic inch sprint cars, ‘The Grove’ saw fans flock to their speedplant to get away from the fear, panic and hysteria playing out worldwide. That caught the attention of the local ABC News affiliate ABC 27 News’ Allie Berube who reported from the racing facility — showing how the racing community chose to gather amid fears of spreading the novel Coronavirus.
That report led to a question being asked during Gov. Tom Wolf’s Monday press conference updating the public on Pennsylvania’s response to the global pandemic. Gov. Wolf was asked whether he would shut down racing events put on by track promoters who had related they would continue to race until they were forced otherwise.
Wolf made his position clear, without hesitation.
“No, I’m not going to force them to cancel,” Wolf bluntly responded. He would go on to discuss his thoughts on crowds gathering at local racetracks during this time of preached social distancing.
“What we ought to do is think not what should we do in terms of what the law is, but what should we do in terms of what we owe to our fellow citizens. That’s what I would ask of the folks at the race courses.”
While fans of the motorsports community rose up to cling to the statement of Wolf not forcing race facility closures, three mid-state facilities quickly turned to postponements and cancellations last Tuesday afternoon. Port Royal Speedway, Williams Grove Speedway and Selinsgrove Speedway all postponed events scheduled to take place this past weekend, with Port Royal further postponing action for the next two weeks.
“In response to the Cornonavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and in compliance with Gov. Wolf’s recommendation, the Port Royal Speedway will be postponing racing activities for the next two weeks effectively starting with this weekend’s double header,” stated a prepared statement sent out via social media.
Selinsgrove Speedway followed suit with a one-week hiatus followed by more decisions to come for their March 29 event.
“The Saturday, March 21, season opener at Selinsgrove Speedway has been postponed in accordance with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s recommendations on the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic …Speedway officials will continue to monitor the pandemic situation and will make a decision next week on the Sunday, March 29, program featuring 410 sprint cars and super late models,” said speedway general manager Steve Inch.
Williams Grove, who celebrated success on Sunday, March 15, announced they would take at least this past Friday night off via a prepared statement.
“Williams Grove Speedway will not be racing this Friday, March 20, based on the recommendations of the governor of Pennsylvania. The status of future races will be announced.”
Local racing facilities left in limbo
While racing activities for this past weekend and next have been postponed or will be expected to see postponements, the rest of the racing world here in the Twin Tiers has their eyes in close proximity to the situation. Andrew Harpell’s Five Mile Point Speedway in Kirkwood, New York made a statement last Tuesday evening in regard to their open practice that was scheduled for this weekend.
“We are not holding open practice this Saturday at Five Mile Point Speedway. The March 28 practice is still scheduled and we will see day-to-day what transpires with the ongoing coronavirus and regulations. On top of the current regulations for mass gatherings there is a forecasted high of 35 degrees on Saturday — it is the right decision for everyone.”
In speaking with the promoters from Chemung Speedrome, second-year promoters Ray and Ellen Hodge are full steam ahead for their opener coming in May. In terms of getting the facility prepared for opening, they are “doing everything just as we normally would,” while assessing what happens locally with the pandemic. Chemung’s promoters are excited for the new season as they have received tremendous support from local businesses for the upcoming season.
In speaking with officials at The Hill Speedway in Monroeton, they are still planning for their April 4 practice session at the track — so long as the weather cooperates. Last season, The Hill had an awful time with wet weather and slow drying grounds which delayed their season opening events by several weeks.
Woodhull Raceway in Steuben County of New York will see first-year promoters Terry and Nikki Brewer take the reigns of the facility celebrating their 56th year in operation. This one-third-mile clay oval is scheduled for Open Practice on April 4 and April 11, but public health concerns due to the coronavirus may call for cancellation of those events. The racing facility would otherwise be ready to open the gates as the physical property is drying out on schedule from Winter.
Outlaw Speedway in Dundee, N.Y. has lost their first event of 2020 as their Car Show scheduled for March 27, 28 and 29 at Arnot Mall has been cancelled. The mall was able to hold a car show this past weekend for Woodhull Raceway, but new regulations set forth by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought Outlaw’s car show to the red flag.