Races went on last weekend (July 18, 19) at the Penticton Speedway, but things were a little quieter than usual.
The stands, which normally hold several thousand enthusiastic fans, held less than 50, due to COVID-19 safety measures put in place by Interior Health and Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office.
Days before races were set to take place, resistance from IH put the races on hold.
On average, the speedway attracts about 4,000 fans. In early July, the speedway hosted their first event of the season, at which they seated about 1,500. Speedway owner Johnny Aantjes expressed frustration at the decision to limit the crowd.
“I’m disappointed, to say the least, I’m frustrated. I’m looking around and I’m seeing so many instances where, particularly the beaches and the parks, where nobody is enforcing physical distancing, and there’s a lot of people in a small area,” said Aantjes.
Unlike the speedway, he explained, where they plan on enforcing physical distancing and implementing certain measures to help lower the risk for those involved.
With just 50 spectators in the stands, Aantjes said they wouldn’t come close to covering their costs, yet, the races will go on.
“Racing is a part of mental health for a lot of people too, it’s an outlet for people; you need something that’s in a safe, restricted area that people can get out and do their thing. And we think it’s necessary, it has to happen,” he said.
Come Saturday less than 50 people observed drivers race around the track in their respective categories, including Hornets, Street Stock and Hit-2-Pass.
The pits were also less full than usual. Some drivers chose not to come to the event.
Josh Miller took first in Hit-2-Pass event Saturday, his first ever hit race. Despite the small crowd, he said he was just happy to be racing.
“We waited so long to be racing, it sucks with no fans, but we’re still out having fun,” said Miller.
On a regular weekend in July, the event would attract between 12 to 16 Hit-2-Pass cars, filling the pits with vehicles, but on Saturday, there were many empty spots.
The 38-DD Race Team crew admitted they debated coming out to the races.
“We weren’t actually going to come out, because there’s no fans. If there’s no fans, there’s no point. We do it for the fun, we do it for the fans… putting on a show for the crowd is what matters,” said Miller.
However even more than this, the reason they race is because of something they call, “horsepower therapy.”
“When it’s the off-season, as soon as Christmas rolls around, you get that itch. You don’t realize how much this helps you, with stress and all that, until you sit in there and your foot goes to the floor. We call it horsepower therapy,” said team member, Angel Tranter.
Driver Tyler Fuller with the Leading Edge Glass and Axe Monkeys team, said the small crowd didn’t change a lot for him. When he puts his foot to the floor, he says he’s so focused on the car in front of him that he barely notices the people in the stands.
“This is my outlet, you can’t do it on the street, or you shouldn’t anyway. You can some out here, put your foot to the floor and hold it there as long as you dare…,” he said.
Fuller took third in Street Stock on Saturday night.
He said one of the biggest reasons he comes back is because of the speedway group.
“It’s the Penticton Speedway family. Once you’re in you’re in, you’re part of the family. It’s nice, I should have come here a long time ago.”
After the races concluded that night, Aantjes said the crowd was lighter than he anticipated, but happy they were able to easily keep within their 50-person limit.
“(It was) a good night of racing overall, we kept racing going. (For) 50 years we’ve have racing at this race track… it looks like we’ll still be able to pull the season off, so there’s something to be said for that,” he said.
Their next big event of the season will be the Gordie Mannes Memorial Weekend, July 31 to August 2.