The roar of the engines, the smell of burnt rubber, and the many racing traditions have returned to the state of Nebraska.
After the season was delayed nearly three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two local Nebraska dirt tracks have reopened for the summer: Eagle Raceway in Eagle, Neb. and I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.
“We needed to reopen because this is a business. We’ve lost nearly 50% of our season,” said Joe Kosiski, part-owner of I-80 Speedway.
Tracks like Eagle and I-80 have lost upwards of eight weeks of their season. Many originally scheduled March 28 as their opening night.
The process of beginning the season for each track was complex. They both had to work with the Cass County health department to get a set standard of guidelines to adhere to social distancing and limit capacity. For their opening night, I-80 Speedway reached out on social media and allowed online ticket sales for one day only, to guarantee capacity stays at 25%.
“On June 22, we were able to allow 75% attendance or 10,000 people and about 4-6 people per race team,” Kosiski said.
Both tracks have taken severe financial hits. Most of the revenue comes from sponsors, as well as attendance.
“We get about 15 weekends of racing in a good year, factoring in rainouts, and things like that,” Roger Hadan, owner of Eagle Raceway said. “So, taking seven or eight weeks out of the season, right off the bat, made things tough.”
In addition, even once they began the season, Eagle Raceway was still losing money due to the 25% capacity rule.
“The first week of the season, we were able to have 1,800 people at the track. That includes the fans, the drivers, and the pit crews,” Hadan said. “And, at that dollar amount, we were still losing money.”
Teams are traveling to these tracks from all over the country. Some teams have traveled to I-80 Speedway from California to get their cars on the track and begin racing.
Kosiski is pleased with how fans have held up their end of the bargain at I-80.
“Fans at our track have been great. They’ve done a good job at spreading themselves apart in the grandstands, and maintaining distance, and I feel like it can be a model for other sporting events too,” he said.
Both tracks are following all state and county health department guidelines for controlling the spread of COVID-19 as their goal has been to set an example for other events.
Both tracks are hoping that the strong crowds over the Independence Day weekend will continue, and that they can draw people to events throughout the summer. Eagle Raceway was one of the only public fireworks shows in the area on Saturday night.