High school football is on hold. College football is questionable and limited at best. Salem Red Sox baseball has cancelled its season.
It’s a different take for sports enthusiasts and racing fans at Franklin County Speedway.
“Gentlemen and ladies, start your engines.”
On Saturday, July 18th, weekly racing’s first return to the iconic speedway in Callaway in many years will kick off the season of trading paint on the 3/8 mile FCS oval.
Weekly racing was once a staple of nearly every short track in the country, but a sluggish economy and the rising cost of racing diminished most track’s schedules to just every other week or even worse, just monthly. However, FCS track promoter Langley Austin thinks the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown situations around the country have changed the landscape dramatically.
“To say that things are different in this country today than they were when this year began would be a dramatic understatement,” Austin noted in a release this week. “It’s a whole new world and with that comes a different approach to things. We started 2020 thinking we would run a few events and maybe run once a month. But, with the coronavirus and the way we’ve gone through shutdowns with the pandemic, it’s opened a different set of doors right now and we have to capitalize where we can.”
Austin’s plans of going with weekly racing don’t come without some challenges as other race tracks try to race amid the pandemic as well. However, most are either shuttered for now or operating without fans, which isn’t good for the racers, the track, or their sponsors. NASCAR, for one, has returned to racing without spectators in the stands. Franklin County Speedway will welcome fans to their weekly shootouts with guidelines from the CDC being observed.
“We will limit attendance to about 1,000 which still makes for a nice crowd,” Austin said in an exclusive interview with The Star on Tuesday. “We will observe social distancing. Families that come together can still sit together. Others will sit six feet apart. We will have water readily available and places set up to wash your hands. We’ll be providing a safe atmosphere for everyone.”
FCS will be the first track in the Virginia-North Carolina area to open back up with a full racing schedule and spectator attendance.
Other monetary considerations came into play according to Austin.
“It’s going to be a challenge to make weekly racing work,” Austin pointed out. “Teams can’t afford to race every week without the track doing their work to make the racing more affordable. We’ve lowered the Late Models tire cost by nearly $200 and put them on a tire that lasts multiple races. We’ve cut the cost of tires to the Chargers to where they can get free or really cheap tires from other teams. Plus, we have an open tire rule in Mini Stocks that allows them to bring what they have rather than buy from us. That takes money from our program, but if we don’t do that, the racers can’t survive.”
“We’re also going to shake the divisions up some as we go along. Give some divisions some nights off here or there, and work them as needed. The hardcore racer will find a way there every week if he wants to race, but we’ve got to find ways to draw new and different racers in from time to time to get the car counts built up. It’s all a work in progress and as we go we’ll get stronger and stronger. Racers are seeing the hard work we’re putting in to get them to the track and save them money. It’s not an overnight success and everything isn’t perfect, but we’re going to get it to where it’s as close as we can.”
This weekend’s kickoff include cars from the Bowman Gray Stadium track in Winston-Salem, NC which is still shuttered. Three divisions from Bowman Gray will headline the racing action including the very popular open-wheel Modifieds which will compete in twin 50-lap races. Others divisions include the Stadium Sportsman, Stadium Street Stocks, Mini Stock, Chargers, Stock 4, Compacts, and Any Car. On July 3rd, one of three previous races this year at FCS, the Any Cars had a 37 car count and Austin expects another strong field.
“We’ve given these racers some good deals and a great rules package that keeps the cars even no matter the engine or the budget they have,” Austin said. “Many haven’t raced all year and they want to get back to racing. Plus, our purse, given the expenses for the racer, is better than any track in the four-state Late Model Stock Car region. The racers are starting to see that, and they’re calling and trying to get down to race with us. We’ll make Franklin County Speedway the place to come. We haven’t had any physical changes to the track since the 1960s. FCS is its own unique, special venue.”
For sports fans wanting to see the return of sports action in person, the Franklin County Sppedway is leading the way.