North Carolina Tracks in Limbo as State Eyes Slow Reopening

Tracks in North Carolina are not sure what is next after the state’s governor issued a one-week extension of a “stay-at-home” executive order and announced a phased reopening plan.

Under Governor Roy Cooper’s plan, bans on public mass gatherings would slowly be lifted through the spring and early summer – but it is not clear when short track racing would return, whether it be June or July.  While Cooper addressed NASCAR specifically and opened the door Thursday to a return to racing for the major leagues, short track operators wait to see what will happen next as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

While the idea of hosting races without fans in attendance and putting those events on streaming media services has been floated around, many area tracks say they simply cannot operate without fans – dispelling the notion that tracks make their money solely off the back gate.  Caraway Speedway is one of those tracks, despite an existing partnership with Speed51’s streaming media service.

“We’re waiting to see when the state or local officials will allow us to go back racing,” Renee Hackett, promoter of Caraway Speedway and the Prestoria Race Alliance, said.  “It’s a tough situation and we’re just hoping to get back going as soon as we can.

“We have no plans of racing without fans,” Hackett continued.  “This business is hard enough to make work with fans. We will look at all options as they are provided to us by the government and figure out what the best move going forward is.  I just can’t see a scenario where we could race without fans.”

Caraway Speedway is one of nine pavement short tracks in North Carolina that was set to host a season of racing in 2020.  Another track in the central portion of the state is Ace Speedway, a popular, fan-favorite destination of racing.

Ace Speedway operator Jason Turner has expressed his frustrations openly about the continued and prolonged shutdown.  During the extended offseason, Turner has worked on facility improvements in preparation of a potential upcoming season and has a plan in place to elevate sanitation standards when the track is able to reopen.

“Aside from my personal views of the situation, going back racing won’t be as hard as some might make it out to be,” Turner stated.  “Racetracks are full of open air.  If we practice good hygiene after using the restrooms, cough into our elbows or shirts, wave hello instead of shaking hands, I see no reason why we cannot be within six feet of each other at any racetrack.

“Tickets and food are already purchased from a person behind a window at Ace so that won’t have to change,” Turner continued.  “Our staff will be briefed on adequate sanitation measures and additional staff will be brought in to keep our common areas in top order.”

Turner also elaborated about the elevated standards and how they would be applied in the pits during his races as well.

“In the pits, food and pit passes are already purchased from behind a window,” Turner explained.  “Pens used to sign insurance waivers will be dropped into a bucket for sanitizing once used. Pit crews could also practice good hygiene habits.  If we all use common sense, there should be absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to race.”

Turner also said people who are sick or think they may have contracted COVID-19 should stay home to not risk further contamination.

A little over an hour to the east of Ace Speedway sits Wake County Speedway, the latest track to become NASCAR sanctioned and one of North Carolina’s oldest tracks.  Wake County Speedway is run predominantly by Charlie Hansen who has previously said there is no way he can race without fans in attendance.

“The first thing we have to do is wait on a green light from NASCAR,” Hansen remarked.  “I don’t see much of a chance of Wake County racing without fans.  Having fans present is an integral piece of the puzzle.”

The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour runs a bulk of their schedule in North Carolina.  As of now, their schedule is set to resume on June 5th at Ace Speedway, but Gov. Cooper’s phased reopening has cast doubt on that date and the June 13th date at Hickory Motor Speedway.  The CARS Tour also has a June date scheduled at Dominion Raceway in Northern Virginia, but there are fresh doubts as to whether racetracks in Virginia will be able to operate at all with fans in attendance this season.

“It’s too early to tell at this point,” CARS Tour series director Chris Ragle said.  “We’ll have to monitor the situation and see how the phase program the government has put in place materializes.  It’s a disappointing situation no matter the case.”

A couple of weeks ago, the series released a revised schedule with three races in June and one in July for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Tour.  The July date is at Carteret County Speedway in Peletier, North Carolina – a track that has already announced plans to race into December once their season goes green.

The office of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has not responded to Race22’s request for comment for this article.

About the Author

Andy Marquis is the managing editor of Race22.com, joining the team in 2011. Marquis has vast journalism experience, having covered ARCA, INDYCAR, NASCAR, AMA and IHRA Drag Racing. He has also covered politics from the local level in Maryland to the national level in Washington. Currently, he oversees the editorial side of Race22.com on a day-to-day basis while also contributing features and covering races on location.