RACING IN 2020 WITH THE COVID-19

RACING IN 2020 WITH THE COVID-19

Spring time in Arkansas has always brought with it, the roars of racing engines and the glistening of racecars on race tracks throughout the state of Arkansas. But the year 2020 brought with it a different obstacle, other than the occasional spring rain showers that would force the cancellation of an early year show. As with the rest of the world around us, the world of motorsports was also paralyzed for some time by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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As the Covid-19 pandemic spread worldwide it put the health, safety, and welfare of all persons at risk. This brought on input from the federal government, and regulations from state governments. The pandemic for some time kept most people confined to their homes. The idea was to keep down as much social contact as possible in hopes that the virus would not spread. There was also regulations that businesses with lots of public traffic and gathering were to be closed. This measure also included all raceways in Arkansas as well.

The spring weekends of Arkansas showed these facilities dormant for the first time in history. As well as many other businesses in Arkansas. Although there was much to do in the press about the shuttering of restaurants, bars, and hair salons, little if any was mentioned about the economic impact the Covid-19 virus was having on the motorsports industry in Arkansas.


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As the weeks passed and the racing facilities remained closed, track owners across the state like other business owners were faced with a loss of revenue. However, this/ loss of revenue came from a different perspective. Unlike other businesses, most of these facilities had been closed since the end of September 2019. Most people may have forgot, or may not understand but racing venues operate generally from March through September. Thus only having seven months of the year to generate their annual revenue.


Springtime in Arkansas has always brought with it, the roars of racing engines and the glistening of race cars on race tracks throughout the state of Arkansas. But the year 2020 brought with it a different obstacle, other than the occasional spring rain showers that would force the cancellation of an early year show. As with the rest of the world around us, the world of motorsports was also paralyzed for some time by the Covid-19 pandemic.


As the weeks passed and the racing facilities remained closed, track owners across the state like other business owners were faced with a loss of revenue. However, this/ loss of revenue came from a different perspective. Unlike other businesses, most of these facilities had been closed since the end of September 2019. Most people may have forgotten, or may not understand but racing venues operate generally from March through September. Thus only having seven months of the year to generate their annual revenue.


Also with the tracks closed and racers not being able to race, track owners had the pressure of other business concerns other than the loss of current revenue. Batesville Motor Speedway owner Mooney Starr said. “The thing about racers is if they aren’t able to race, they will find other things to do. And when a racer finds other things to do and develops new interest, that’s potentially a loss of future revenues for all track owners, not just me.”


Case in point Pro N/E drag racer Jeff Gilkey of Danville, Arkansas. As the tracks in Arkansas continued to be shuttered due to state regulations, and with no end in sight, Gilkey looked outside his normal box for recreation relief for him and his family.

“There continued to be all these commercials on how camping could be an alternative means of recreation that would meet the standards of social distancing,” Gilkey said. “Now I’ve never been a camper, but I decided to give it a try. So I went out and purchased a new camping trailer. Then me and my family spent the rest of the summer camping and kayaking and we really enjoyed it. I think I went to the track one time since they were able to reopen.”

When Gilkey was questioned about his plans for the 2021 season he responded as follows. “I plan on racing more in 2021 than I did last year. But due to the investment that I have made with camping and kayaking, and the fact that we enjoy it, I won’t be racing as much as I have in the years past.”


Not only did the track owners face a loss of revenue during the Covid-19 economic downturn, but also race shops supplying parts and services did as well. Arkansas Motorsports Magazine talked with Eckie Harrison who owns Eckie’s DCR Parts and Accessories in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

“With races tracks not being able to open it had a drastic impact on my business revenue. I make the most of my income selling parts and providing other repair services to the racers. So naturally with the area race tracks closed, there was little parts to be sold, much less repairs to race cars.”


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As the month of May rolled around the state of Arkansas did allow for racing facilities to reopen once they submitted a Covid-19 protection plan for fans and racers. The plan had to be state approved, and limited the number of spectators that were allowed in the grandstands due to social distancing guidelines. Most tracks were approved to reopen before the end of May. This in itself proved to be an administrative challenge for track operators. They could reopen, but did they have large enough grandstands to allow for the six foot social distancing requirements to seat enough fans in the facility to turn a profit.

As racing resumed around the state, naturally the economic factor slowly started to improve. It gave some folks who were not normally race fans an alternative to go to, as indoor entertainment venues remained closed. It also helped shop owners like Harrison to breathe a little easier.

“It just wasn’t overnight,” Harrison said. “But business is beginning to get back to normal. But now we are being faced with parts shortages with maintaining inventories as a result of the manufactures’ being shut down earlier in the year. There have been a lot of business challenges for anyone in the racing business this year. We still have a few months to go till the end of the year. It will be until then that we will know how well we have made it through 2020.”

As there were challenges with the Covid-19 with track owners, racing related business owners, there were also challenges for racers and race teams as well. During the five month offseason, most every team had rebuilt their operations for the 2020 racing season. The cost of these rebuilds across the state of Arkansas alone would run into millions of dollars. With not being able to race, and not receiving any type of return on their investment by means of income or recreation, several owners were faced with the decision to sell out, or wait out the pandemic.

Arkansas racing crew chief Rudy Williams talked with Arkansas Motorsports Magazine on how his team dealt with the business side of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Fortunately our team is well-funded without any outside sponsorship. This removed a lot of pressure as generally racing sponsors expect the race car to be on the track most weekends of the month generating advertising for the money they have invested. I know a few of the teams were are close to had to rework some of their sponsorship agreements that they had in place for this season.”

“One of the things our car owner done was to estimate what our weekly racing expenses would have been as though we had been racing those weeks that we were unable to because of the Covid-19. Then he wrote a check each week to a different account. This kept us in budget and from spending that money in the latter part of the season. Now we will use that money as a cushion to get us ready for the 2021 season.”

Williams was asked if his team immediately returned to racing once race tracks received the go ahead to reopen after submitting their Covid-19 operation plans. We were somewhat surprised by his answer of “No.”