Mississippi Thunder Speedway owner Bob Timm was more than confident that the speedway could still race and be safe despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The only problem?
Buffalo County health officials, the sheriff and state officials weren’t as assured, forcing the speedway to postpone their season opener on April 24.
So Timm and the speedway organized what he admitted was “kind of a protest” for May 1, in order to prove that they could put on races without incident. They called it “The Race to be Essential.” Although health officials didn’t give them permission, Timm and the speedway were in constant communication with officials and followed their safety recommendations — that included no spectators and capped the amount of drivers to 150 across five divisions. Timm said if the political fallout became too great, he would pull the pin on it. But it proved not to be an issue.
“The Buffalo County Health Department allowed us to have a voice,” Timm said. “I was just asking, ‘Give me the opportunity to show you that this is safe,’ and that’s pretty much what they did.”
Without fans, they streamed the races live via RacinDirt.tv and, according to Timm, it set the RacinDirt.tv’s one-day viewership record. It was the most pay per views the company had ever sold for a single day.
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“It just reiterates the fact that people are ready to do stuff and need to be entertained,” Timm said. “And I think this is a good way to do it … so that those people at risk and want to be there or the elderly can still watch it and kind of be a part of it.”
Two weeks later, racing returned on a weekly basis after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled Gov. Tony Evers stay-at-home order on May 13. Racing has gone on without a hitch since, with the speedway being in constant contact with health officials. They don’t have a set capacity number, but monitor it. If it gets too congested, then they stop letting people in — which is what happened a couple of weeks ago. But overall, Timm is confident because of the size of their venue — over 50 acres — offering more flexibility when it comes to social distancing not only for spectators, but for the drivers and pit crew in the pits as well.
“When you consider 50 acres and you consider maybe 300 people on the pits for an event, it gives us a ton of space to spread people out,” Timm said.
So far the feedback has been generally positive. Attendance is solid and driver participation has been “record-breaking.” Timm said they would typically have 90 to 100 competitors on any given night. The past two Friday’s, they had 150 and 180. They, along with Timm, are just happy to be back doing something they enjoy while also doing it in a smart and safe manner.
“I think everybody is just excited to be allowed to do something and make the decision if they want to do it on their own or now,” Timm said. “We’ve encouraged people throughout the time we’ve been open is that for people that either don’t feel well or at risk to just go ahead and stay at home. That’s the general consensus when people come is they want to have the ability to make their own decision whether they want to go.
“We’ve taken a lot of steps to distance people from one another as best as we can and we have been in constant contact with Buffalo County Health Department and abiding by their recommendations as best as we can. But overall, it’s just clear that people are educated on it now and they are ready to move on.”