Upper Valley small-track racing gets creative with events amid pandemic

  • A race car chassis sits ready for attention prior to a Granite State Pro Stock Series practice at Claremont Motorsports Park last week. GSPSS owner Mike Parks, who also leases the Claremont track for weekly racing, will host his first event of the season on Friday, June 5, 2020, albeit without spectators but with pay-per-view access for interested fans. Emily Miller photograph—

  • Granite State Pro Stock Series drivers Jeremy Davis (09), of Tamworth, N.H., and Jake Matheson (52), of Hillsboro, N.H., get in practice laps at Claremont Motorsports Park last week. GSPSS owner Mike Parks, who also leases the Claremont track for weekly shows, will host his first event of the season on Friday, June 5, 2020, albeit without spectators but with a pay-per-view option for fans. Emily Miller photograph—

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 9:47:54 PM
Modified: 6/3/2020 9:47:46 PM

CLAREMONT — As with auto racing promoters everywhere, Mike Parks is resorting to a little out-of-the-box thinking to get the Claremont Motorsports Park season going on Friday night.

With New Hampshire coronavirus pandemic regulations limiting what he can do, Parks still has enough wiggle room to host a schedule-opening Granite State Pro Stock Series race, with three of Claremont’s regular divisions providing support. Fans still can’t attend, so Parks has made a pay-per-view internet arrangement possible in hopes it will produce at least a break-even situation.

It’s a step beyond what he’s had so far this year, which is nothing.

“It’s part of the state of New Hampshire slowly getting facilities open — not just ours, but businesses in general,” Parks said last week. “We can have so many people per car if we follow CDC guidelines that are in place. We can operate basically as long as we do it without spectators. That gives us the opportunity to do this event.”

The Upper Valley’s two auto racing facilities are doing what they can with the pandemic hitting their finances. As Parks opens Claremont for the first time in 2020, Bear Ridge Speedway continues to wait for Vermont to loosen restrictions for group gatherings.

The Bradford, Vt., dirt oval hasn’t hosted a show yet, but it has opened for a pair of closed three-hour practices each of the past three weekends and is scheduled for more on Saturday. The season itself remains on hold.

“A practice is not an event; we’re very limited to what we have for cars,” BRS co-owner April May Preston-Elms said in a recent phone interview. “If someone says just run the race cars (without spectators), financially we can’t do that. We would love to think we’re going to be open by July, but your guess is as good as ours.”

NASCAR’s return to live racing, complete with empty grandstands, has at least given a starved sporting public something to watch on television. It doesn’t portend similar activity in northern New England, which hasn’t seen a track open for regular action because of limits on groups.

The owner of Riverside Speedway, in Northumberland, N.H., Michael Humphrey, defied authorities with a May 23 show that included spectators. Humphrey backed down from hosting another event last Saturday when the state threatened an injunction. He has since reopened for practices.

Several other facilities have done the same thing, including Bear Ridge. Preston-Elms allows only teams that have registered for the 2020 season to take part. Anyone wanting to practice has to reserve a spot in advance, arrive in one vehicle, submit to temperature screenings and wear face masks, and only one car can take to its dirt surface at a time.

“They’re very appreciative, very cooperative,” Preston-Elms said. “Groups have been impressed with the procedures and kept their masks on as best as they could. It’s been received very favorably.”

A spectator-absent operation isn’t financially feasible for Parks because small tracks don’t have the marketing reach of big-time racing, he noted.

“We count on what comes through the gate to pay the bills,” he said. “We have some marketing partners to help with this event, for sure. That’s the only way we can do it.”

Parks has called upon the short-track racing website speed51.com for a PPV stream of Friday’s show. Fans won’t be allowed to attend the Lets Go Racing 100 card, but they can watch online at a cost of $24.95.

“I don’t know if this will be feasible, if it will be profitable or not,” Parks added, “but in promoting motorsports or in any promotion, sometimes you have to try new things.”

Small-track racing will have to maintain that approach for the time being.

“At the end of the day, if everybody gets sick and can’t come because there’s no place to get well,” Preston-Elms said, “we will have no track to worry about.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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