BobbyBlountTakesGreenFlagPLYMOUTH — While hopes are high for local racing fans, there is some anxiousness as the start of the racing season approaches at Plymouth Speedway.
The track has not missed any race dates as of yet but the “test and tune” days have been pushed back. Right now, the track hopes to open with a test and tune in early May. But Irish Saunders, business manager at Hoosier Tire for 40 years and speaking on behalf of his good friend, track owner Ed Kennedy, is cautiously optimistic.
“We were supposed to start with a test and tune (April 11) another the following Saturday and then open the Saturday after that,” Saunders said. “As of now, we tentatively moved that test and tune back but my feeling now is that is going to be moved back (again.”
Outside of just the speedway itself, the setback caused by the state’s response to COVID-19 has an impact on local racers. Most of the competitors at Plymouth are not just only professional drivers, but whether it’s a hobby or there is the dream of one day making the big time, the current situation is affecting everyone.
“Most of our local racers don’t do it for a living,” said Saunders. “Most of us are still putting cars together for the season but now we’re having trouble getting parts.”
“There are companies that have closed down because of this that are no longer making parts,” he said. “Some guys are ahead of the game and they have their cars ready right now and they want to test. It’s like having an $80,000 Corvette and you can’t take it out of the garage. You’re champing at the bit to get it on the track. They are jonesing to get out and try their cars.”
“The first race will be a ‘Cabin Fever’ race that’s for sure,” he said.
Those who are ahead of the game are seeking the possibility of testing their cars privately.
“We’re getting private requests to rent the track,” said Saunders. “How it would work is that you would be allowed in but there would just be you and your crew allowed in, only the driver, and maybe four crew members. Once you are done, the next crew could come in. We are checking with the Marshall County Health Department. The only way this would happen is if they approve it at some point.”
The unknown of when the season starts is the tough part for all those involved with small track racing. When or if competition is allowed to continue affects how many races each track can run, given the time constraints.
“People are saying, ‘Well, they will just run twice a weekend,’ but the average blue-collar racer can’t afford to race more than once a week,” said Saunders. “I think that some of the races we might lose but we have to look at it as if there were a lot of rainouts. It will also affect what tracks can pay out to the winners.”
“A race track is a seasonal business,” he said. “The electric bill, the tax bill, it all keeps rolling in and when that window becomes available you have to take advantage of it. I think it’s likely they might let us open at some point but say that you can only bring in so many people rather than filling the stands — keep everyone a certain distance away from each other.”
“Ed Kennedy said it best,” said Saunders, “that the strong tracks will survive and the weak tracks will die on the vine. That’s sad. It’s terrible for the sport. I hope I never see this in my lifetime again.”
The bright lining of that cloud is that NASCAR and other racing leagues have taken lemons and made lemonade with televising of “virtual” racing that features the big names in the sport.
“The biggest sporting event, the only sporting event, going on right now is iRacing,” said Saunders. “My son Eric and I were watching the other night and he said, ‘Can you believe we’re sitting here getting excited about a video game?’ But he also said this might bring the younger generation in (to the sport of racing). I don’t really have a gut feeling at this point about how this all will affect the sport. Racers are always going to race and everybody can afford the level they want to do.”
He added, “At the end of the day it has to be fun. That’s why people do it. You do it to be with family and friends. It’s what you want to do.”
Many tracks have a significant impact on the local economies of where they are located and the Plymouth Speedway is scheduled to bring a huge national event to Marshall County in July — virus willing.
“We are bringing the flat track Amateur Nationals to Plymouth and there will be 1,200 to 1,500 entries for that race and I’m afraid there won’t be enough hotel rooms and campgrounds for them,” said Saunders. “We are right now going to go Friday (July 17) as a test and tune and then Saturday the pro race. We take Sunday off and the amateurs run on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. That’s going to bring more people into Plymouth than you can imagine.”
“We are going to try and get everything done that we can do but who knows?” said Saunders. “Nobody has an answer right now. We are hoping. We just don’t have the answer right now.”