Motorsports get ready for return as restrictions lifted on gatherings
Some tracks hosting events this weekend
As restrictions around gatherings are loosened in the province, racetracks are planning a return of motorsports, some as early as today.
The province has opened up outdoor gatherings with no cap on attendance, as long as the entrance to the track is controlled and measures are put in place to allow physical distancing.
Wayne Smith of Petty International Raceway in River Glade had planned to host races Saturday with just drivers and their teams, but will now also be allowing spectators.
"We hold probably 3,000, 3,500 people in the stands, and I mean on a normal night that we race just a regular race we probably only get about 500 people in the stands, so we'll have no issue in keeping the distance that we have to," said Smith.
In a normal year, some tracks in New Brunswick would have already run a handful of races by now, with some tracks opening up as early as Victoria Day.
Tim Wile, owner of the Shediac Centre for Speed, said his track planned to host an event using a drive-in theatre style format, but with loosened restrictions, will instead let people into the stands starting next Friday.
He said physical distancing at the large track shouldn't be a problem.
Will be respecting distancing
"We've got a very large and completely rebuilt grandstand which seats over 3000 … and we've marked off from sections where six feet distances are designated." said Wile.
"In the pit area, we've got over four acres of pit area, so it's extremely easy for us to distance our teams as well."
Several international motorsport leagues have already started racing.
NASCAR has held several events without fans in attendance and has started letting a limited number of people back in the stands.
Formula One will start up again in July, but tracks will be closed to spectators.
But tracks in New Brunswick don't televise races and largely rely on gate receipts and sponsorships, and those sponsors expect people in the stands to see their ads.
Smith said he's excited to welcome fans back to the stands.
"That's how we make our money," said Smith.
"Now that we can put some fans in the stands, hopefully we can start paying some bills"
Wile said his track doesn't usually start up until late June, so it hasn't missed many racing days.
But he is concerned that attendance will be down because of fears of COVID-19.
"I think there's a lot of resistance, I guess, to going out where there are large groups of individuals," said Wile.
"I guess that's part of the reason why we are asking everyone, even though it's not mandatory, to wear a mask in the interests of ensuring public safety."
Smith said even the short interruption to his track's racing season damaged the track's pocketbook.
"It definitely hurt it, I mean there's no doubt," said Smith
"But all we can do at this point … is just, you know, carry on and hope we can make it all work."
The province has always maintained that restrictions can be tightened at any time if cases increase.
Wile says it's important to remain vigilant.
"That's the reason why we're trying to take every precaution possible and requesting that people wear a mask in the interests of keeping the virus at bay for the long term," he said.
"That would be a tragedy if we squandered what we've already gained by all the good work that's been done."