CLAREMONT — Claremont Motorsports Park broke from the pack of New England auto racetracks Friday night when they held their first race of 2020 — without fans in attendance.
The Claremont raceway hosted the season-opening event for Granite State Pro Stock Series, a traveling circuit which competes at speedways across New Hampshire, including Claremont. The company streamed the event via a live pay-per-view (PPV) broadcast on Speed51, a short-track racing website.
“It’s just a way to get a buzz going about the speedway, because we’re the first raceway in New England that’s doing this type of [empty seat] event,” said Mike Parks, founder and promoter of Granite State Pro Stock Series, in an interview with the Eagle Times on Monday.
The event ended a six-week delay to Granite State Pro’s season start, due to state government restrictions placed on large gatherings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sporting venues still haven’t received permission to have audience-attended events, but Parks said that state and local officials gave him the go-ahead to hold Friday’s race without fans.
A race without fans poses a financial risk, but Parks said that hosting the event became financially feasible with sponsorship help and the PPV agreement.
“The speedway’s not going to get rich doing this event whatsoever,” Parks said. “If we come out breaking even, I’ll be very, very happy.”
The event hosted races from four divisions: Granite State Pro Stock, R.E. Hinkley Street Stocks, LaValley Building Supply Pure Stocks and Six Shooters. Each division represents a different class of race car.
The race still had to follow state guidelines directed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to Parks. Each car was limited to a certain number of crew members and the speedway were required to keep each crew station at least six feet apart in the pit area. Masks were not made mandatory but highly recommended to crews and hand sanitizer was sufficiently available.
Parks said that spacing vehicles posed no complications because the Claremont speedway is much larger than most parks in the region.
“Following all the guidelines, I can put way more race cars in the pit area than I’m going to have Friday night,” Parks said. “The place is just so big. That’s one of the advantages this speedway has [to hold this event].”
The state is currently considering conditions for reopening the speedways to fans, but any announcement is unlikely for at least a couple of weeks, Parks said. The plan will likely limit venue capacity to 50%, which would not impact attendance at Claremont Motorsports, as its grandstands can hold 7,000 people, far beyond than event attendance.
“I’ve been going there since the mid-eighties and there’s never been 7,000 people there,” Parks said. “We could put 2,000 people in there and that would be a very, very good night.”
The fiscal challenge for speedways won’t be a capacity regulation but allowing them to reopen soon, Parks said. The stock-racing season is only 20 weeks long, or the equivalent to 20 racing events. The season has already lost six weeks due to the pandemic closure.
“It’s definitely a financial burden, but we’re doing the best we can with it,” Parks said. “I’m not complaining, because I understand the situation… We just have to find other ways to make it work in the time being.
Revenue generated from the event’s broadcast will help pay the purse and other expenses associated with hosting an event without fans.
Crazy Horse Racing, in Maine; R.E. Hinkley Oil Company, in Claremont; and R&R Public Wholesale in Hooksett sponsored the event.
“We want to thank everyone for their support and hope they enjoy the event,” Parks said. “The last thing I want to do is have an event with no fans. They are our lifeblood and we want them back, as soon as we can possibly do it in the state of New Hampshire.”