T.J.’s Notebook: Consumed with the Ever Changing Calendar

Harli White (17W) and Kyle Clark (9$) (Serena Dalhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(May 19, 2020) — Life may not seem normal if you are stuck at home, not working, or are suffering from catching COVID-19. The sprint car world has slowly awakened over the past three weeks. Park Jefferson’s event at the end of May got us excited, the World of Outlaws returning to Knoxville May 8th was inspiring, and last weekend’s race at Jackson, Minnesota gave us a sense of normalcy because the second night was rained out.

The gradual ramp up of tracks opening with limited to no fans and a handful of entries continues to grow. Since the Park Jefferson event on April 25th, two events the following week on May 2nd, and nine events May 8-9 when the World of Outlaws returned to Knoxville.

Last week that number jumped to 33 races including a pair of mid-week races courtesy of Josh Baughman and company at West Texas Raceway. Unfortunately, 19 of those events were washed out by Mother Nature, which might be the most normal springtime thing since the COVID-19 situation locked down the country.

I cannot tell you how many races we have on tap this week because who may or may not be allowed to open is a fluid situation. I joked last year while Ohio Speedweek was under siege by inclement weather and Wayne County Speedway had a “pop up” race that social media and modern communication methods could allow tracks and series to make changes on the fly. Little did we know a year ago those methods would have to be used in this situation.

Maintaining the open wheel calendar was easy most of March and April, which was great since I was working extended hours in my day job in information systems in an essential industry. Last moment schedule changes used to be reserved for ASCS Regional Series, USCS, and a handful of other track sand series. With state restrictions ever changing, the calendar has required more detective work than ever from myself, fellow racing historical Jim Harris, and a host of others that keep on the lookout as tracks often announce opening and closings, sometimes doing both in the same day.

Keeping up with those date changes has consumed most of my racing related time maintaining the website, but I have carved out some time to write and produce more material. Another sign that even in my home there are a few signs of normalcy.

Witnessing the slow ramp up of racetracks and series returning to action is a great uplift mentally to everyone that enjoys and/or works in the sport. In my opinion June 15th and July 6th are going to be key dates to see where society with fighting the COVID-19 virus, and what might be in store for the major events for sprint car racing this summer. Hopefully everyone remains healthy, so the momentum continues.

Other Notes….

  • One thing COVID-19 has done is produce awesome fields of sprint cars at some of the select events that have run. Huge car counts at Knoxville and Jackson with an incredibly deep talent pool from all over the country was a great way to make a splash in the return to racing. 48 cars checked into Knoxville with 55 checking into Jackson showed how anxious teams were to get back to business, and for many earn some money to put food on the table.

    It will be interesting to see what the fields look like this week at Pevely, Missouri for the World of Outlaws and next weekend when the All Star Circuit of Champions are in action at Park Jefferson International Speedway the same weekend the Outlaws compete for two nights at Lake Ozark Speedway.

    The World of Outlaws are expected to release their entry list for Pevely later today.

  • Big car counts were not reserved for just Jackson and Knoxville as several 305 events have seen increased fields as tracks reopen. Marysville Raceway on the west coast has also seen two healthy fields of 360 sprint cars as one of the few tracks in the Western United States currently open to run sprint cars.
  • Meridian Speedway did something unique, even for a pandemic, holding a day/night double header (with complete programs) with no fans present and a Pay Per View audience for the Speed Tour Sprint Cars. Meridian is doing another double header this week with their crate sprint cars as part of one of the programs.
  • If you were looking to get into the racing business you would be hard pressed to find a nicer facility for sale currently than Eagle Raceway in Eagle, Nebraska. Often tracks officials deny their facilities being for sale or decline comment, but Eagle officials were up front about the track’s listing on their Facebook page.
  • Cedar Lake Speedway announced on Thursday they would open with a two-day show one day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the state’s stay at home order. The UMSS Traditional Sprint Car Series was able to scramble 14 cars with last minute notice. Unfortunately, a track worker was fatally injured during the cleanup of an incident during a school bus race. Saturday’s portion of Cedar Lake’s program was cancelled. Our thoughts are with the staff at Cedar Lake and the family of the gentleman that died.