The sights and sounds of rolling thunder will return to Southern Ontario racetracks beginning this weekend — but Western New York auto racing fans just across the border will have to wait a little longer for their opportunity to test their racing machines.
Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ontario, joined with other “small” tracks throughout the province and were successful at petitioning the Canadian government and are now permitted to open for track days beginning this Saturday.
Several restrictions will come into play, the biggest being no spectators are allowed in the grandstands, but Merrittville track owners Don and Lorraine Spiece said the good news is that “step one” of the phased opening does include opening Ontario Motorsports facilities for track days or practice sessions, albeit under strict guidelines for the safety of staff and participants.
“We understand that contending with the COVID-19 pandemic has been very stressful on everyone and we've worked hard with other tracks, and the government officials to get ‘Back to the Track,’ the owners said in a joint statement.
Merrittville reopens with a practice session on Saturday. Gates and tech will open at 3 p.m., with practices set to take place from 6 to 9 p.m. and everyone leaving the facility by 9:30 p.m.
“Please understand that we are doing all that we are allowed and that understanding and cooperation from fans is needed in order to be successful,” the owners said. “If we sell out and you do not make the first list for this session, please don't fret as we will have more of these in the coming weeks.”
With racing getting an opportunity for practice laps just across the border, the anxiety mounts for the same courtesy at U.S. tracks that include Ransomville Speedway, which has postponed indefinitely all racing events due to continued restrictions put in place by New York State to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Big R public relations director Dave Buchanan said speedway management and track officials are continuing to monitor the situation and will make adjustments to its season schedule once restrictions are lifted by the state. However, there's been plenty of ambiguity in the state's messaging so far.
“For me, personally, as someone who's been around the sport, tracks will try to run as much as they can as long as the weather cooperates. Our season is on hold and we're just waiting for instructions from state officials. The part that's been so confusing is that there's been no clear indication from the state on when we can begin, outside of what was on (another) speedway post. We've had no official comment,” Buchanan said.
“What we've heard is that only horse tracks and Watkins Glenn can open on June 1st. It's kind of insulting when the governor goes on TV talking about how sports should open without fans and ‘we'll do everything to help them,’ but they haven't. And open without fans? That's going to be difficult. It's almost impossible to operate a racing facility without fans.”
In Lancaster, the owners and management of New York International Raceway Park — formerly Lancaster Speedway — have been closely monitoring the current situation concerning COVID-19.
Like other local tracks, they've prepared a contingency plan which includes rescheduling some of its early race dates, per New York State restrictions.
“We are awaiting the governors direction as to when we can fully reopen. We will start the season or at least begin with test and tune gamblers races and all that we are permitted to do. Rest assured we plan to race in 2020 so let’s put the rumors to rest and use this time to get our rides ready for some heavy duty competition,” the NYIRP states on its website.