Coalition Pushes For Fans To Attend Races As Riverhead Competition Gears Up

Riverhead Raceway’s first event this year took place on Saturday, Aug. 1, and it has been running without fans in attendance ever since. Photo is from a 2015 race. (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The New York Motorsports Coalition is not happy with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is not giving racing facilities across the state a green light to host a limited number of fans.

This coalition, which consists of track operators throughout New York, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) and more, are making a convincing case for the governor to approve attendance at racetracks. With more than 60 racetracks in New York, many of which are family-owned facilities, there is a need for additional revenue.

And the coalition believes this can be done in a safe way. The coalition originally proposed that, starting on Aug. 28, tracks could have a 40 percent capacity for spectator events, mandating face masks and social distancing for both participants and fans. Come Sept. 19, a racetrack can push its capacity level to 70 percent through the end of the racing season since outdoor events have a lesser risk of spreading COVID-19.

“Racing facilities can reopen using the best practices from the CDC and from examples in other parts of the country with social distancing and requiring masks,” Christian Robinson, who is SEMA’s director of state government affairs, said on a Zoom call. “The racing season is not year-round, so their season is running short.”

Further, not allowing New York racetracks to open to fans is actually creating a larger risk of spreading the coronavirus. Fans are traveling to other states, which have relaxed some coronavirus orders, to attend races. Some, Robinson said, have even traveled to and from Canada in order to watch events.

Unlike other types of sports facilities, motor sports is unique in the sense that it is outdoors and with a large acreage at most tracks, people can spread out.

“It’s different from a football game or baseball game, where you’re cramming people into grandstands,” Robinson said. “It puts motor sports in a position to lead the way in terms of reopening.”

PRI is the motor sports industry’s leading trade show. The organization feels it is responsible for helping tracks and other entities within the sport get back to at least a somewhat normal environment.

Former World of Outlaws and DIRTcar Racing COO Tom Deery is now a PRI ambassador.
Deery worked with the world-famous organization for more than 14 years before becoming a PRI ambassador.

“We’ve been working with racetracks across the country, starting with our first coalition in Illinois,” Deery said. “We’re working with local health departments and legislators to get tracks to at least operate.

“New York has led the nation in a lot of things. A couple of the track operators and us have gotten together to create the New York Motorsports Coalition. We think this is a very thoughtful reopening plan that answers the questions of any health department or legislative person.”

At the time of publication, the governor has not addressed this coalition specifically and has not said when racetracks can have fans at outdoor facilities.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which is the largest series to compete at Riverhead Raceway, will run a 200-lap event on Sept. 19. The facility was originally slated to host a pair of Whelen Modified Tour events, one on June 20 and the other on Sept. 19.

Fans who want to watch the races at Riverhead can visit www.riverheadraceway.tv and pay $25 for a day’s worth of action each Saturday. Each purchase of the pay-per-view includes 30 days of video-on-demand.

“Riverhead has done the best they can with participant-only events,” Deery said. “It scratches the motor sports itch for the people who have race cars and who are the most avid fans. That’s why we’re raising our hands and saying, ‘This is not sustainable.’”

Riverhead Raceway’s season is scheduled to conclude on Saturday, Oct. 31.

The coalition will continue to work with the governor’s office to come up with a plan that will eventually lead to full capacity in 2021. At that time, crews and fans alike will still be mandated to wear face masks and social distance.

“Track operators in the state will need to carry the coalition further,” Deery said.

But one of the positives from the pandemic is the advancement of technology at the local short track level. Live streaming events, just like what Riverhead Raceway is doing, is enabling fans across the country to watch races they’d never even think of seeing.

“You’re sitting on Long Island and you can watch a race from Nevada or California this weekend,” Deery said.

Visit www.votervoice.net/SEMA/campaigns to see the full version of the coalition’s proposal.

 

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Joseph Wolkin
Joseph Wolkin is the editor of the Levittown Tribune, Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Anton Media Group's automotive special section and county news section. A graduate of Stony Brook University, Joseph has been published in dozens of publications. He is the author of Grandma: The Story Of A Boy And His Grandma.

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