Grand Blanc, MI (Thursday, March 4, 2021) - When the Governor announced the new updated orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on Tuesday of this week, most Michigander’s felt a bit of relief. Many of the severe restrictions have relaxed a bit, which brings hope to all that things are starting to get back to what we consider normal. But of the nine adjustments to the executive orders, it was the final one that sent most Michigan race fans, drivers, and speedway promoters into a euphoric-like state.
The final line of the new order stated: “Outdoor entertainment and recreational facilities may host up to 1,000 patrons.” This is the news that most of those involved in local short-track racing in Michigan have been hoping for. Now, it is not a permission slip to go back to pre-COVID-19 ways, but it does allow all tracks to be able to open up and start their seasons.
Before Tuesday, most tracks had put a schedule together and a plan for limited capacity seating as the beginning of the 2021 season approached, but there was little confidence that they would be able to execute their plans with the restrictions that were in place. Tuesday’s announcement changed all that.
“Now, there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel,” exclaimed Scott Schultz, General Manager of the Flat Rock & Toledo Speedways. “Hopefully this change is just the beginning. We now know we can open. I was very happy to hear the announcement Tuesday. And not just for us, the restaurants getting more leniencies, and all the other businesses that have struggled so much during this pandemic being able to open up a little more is very promising.”
With tracks in two different states, Scott has had to adjust to two different Governor’s orders. “Toledo at 30% capacity allows us 2,000 fans. We can work with that. We’ve known those numbers for a few weeks. We’ve been heading in a positive direction with the Governor in Ohio for a while. It doesn’t allow for some of our crowds for bus races and other highly attended events, but we’ve tried to schedule those for a little later in the season with hopes of improved restrictions there. With Tuesday’s announcement, same goes for Flat Rock now. We’d like to see the numbers allowed in going up, but at least now we can go to work preparing for the season and for what we have to do to pull it off.”
Flat Rock never opened its doors during the 2020 season, while Toledo only ran a couple of events with limited fans. Across Michigan, some tracks were able to operate under restricted rules, while some tracks, like Flat Rock, never ran a single event in 2020. Tracks that were in close proximity to largely populated areas in Michigan, suffered the most restrictions last year. Tracks that are located in a more rural area seemed to be given more flexibility in what they could, and could not do. It was a mixed bag, a moving target last year. There was no blueprint for how to go about racing during a pandemic. As time has worn on, we’ve learned a lot about the virus, and how to protect ourselves. The new MDHHS orders prove that. With numerous vaccines becoming available for eventually all citizens in the not-so-distant future, the threat continues to decrease. These are all good signs for race fans.
The same sentiment about the new orders was shared by numerous promoters throughout the State on their social media feeds and race fans have responded in kind. Knowing that your track can operate, and that come spring your backside could be trackside brings a warm, fuzzy feeling inside your cold winterized body. Dealing with this pandemic has not been easy for anyone, and any sign of normalcy is welcomed. This is still wintertime in Michigan, and most tracks are at least a couple of months away from fully opening. So if the current trends continue, it’s possible that restrictions could ease up even more. For the first time, in a long time, there is a real belief that we could all be going racing this spring.
As mentioned, this has proved to be an ever-changing endeavor. A rise or fall in COVID-19 numbers could change restrictions at any given time. Stay informed of any state restriction changes that may affect your local tracks at https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus.
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Story - Ed Inloes
Photo - Motor Racing Network