The roar of engines is returning the Afton Motorsports Park, but don’t expect the roar of crowds to come back quite so soon.
The park will host two days of practice Friday, May 15, and Saturday, May 16, but the practices will not be open to spectators in accordance with county and state health guidelines, according to track promoter Ron Ford.
“Obviously we can have no spectators of any kind and that upsets people, but we have to stay within our guidelines,” Ford said. “For drivers, they are always excited to get on the track, and there’s a good feeling from them that we’ve gone through this just to get them on the racetrack.”
Ford said that the track reached out to the Chenango County Health Department, and were given to the green light to hold practices with 20 cars. But Ford also said that out of caution, the event will be limited to five cars at a time, with practices lasting from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day.
A Facebook post included guidelines for how the practices will be run to avoid risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, and said those not following the rules will be ejected from the park.
The practices coincide with NASCAR’s return to competitive racing this weekend, but Ford said that there is no timeline for racing to return to Afton. He said that even if a race could be held, the tickets and concessions that cover the event’s costs will not provide revenue until crowds are allowed to attend the races.
The Sunoco Short Track Super Series, a competition in which Afton is slated to host events June 16 and Oct. 9-10, will return to action Thursday, May 21, and Friday, May 22, in Brasstown, North Carolina. But the onus remains with New York’s state government to allow such events.
“It’s all on the state. Looking at what they are laying out with reopening, the way I’m looking at it, the soonest we could even hold a race is mid-July,” Ford said. “I’m sure we would have to lay out a plan. We certainly hope to race this year, but it’s depending on how things go or if it’ll even happen.”
NASCAR’s return to the track – albeit without fans – will bring top professional sports back to the country for the first time since the pandemic began to shut down sports nationwide in March. Ford said like the national series, racing’s return to Afton would likely prove interesting to a sports-starved public.
“Auto racing is very popular. If things opened up and we could meet the state requirements, I’m sure we would have people come here,” he said. “There’s always a big interest in racing and we would be successful, but we’d have to have the fans.”