Can-Am Speedway owner Tyler Bartlett will be the first to tell you that the 2020 racing season at his track was one of the best he’s ever seen.
However, racing fans weren’t able to enjoy that spectacular season in person because of restrictions due to COVID-19. The LaFargeville-based track featured just one night with fans before being warned by the state about spectators at future races. The track aired most of the season via pay-per-view through the Dirt Track Digest web site.
“It was the wildest, craziest, best racing we’ve seen at Can-Am,” Bartlett said. “It stinks that spectators didn’t get to see it.”
The speedway still managed to run nearly a full season and boasted sizable car counts. Some regular Friday races featured nearly 30 modifieds and 50 sportsman cars, which necessitated twin features in the lineup. The numbers rose partly because Friday night tracks such as Mohawk International Raceway in Akwesasne and Brewertown Speedway went dark for the season. However, Bartlett believes he will have some holdovers from those tracks even if the other tracks reopen this year.
“It helped that those two tracks didn’t run, but we’ve had a good number of racers commit to coming back here next season even if the others open,” Bartlett said.
Can-Am also gained attention by being part of the OktoberFAST series of races that served as a replacement for the postponed SuperDIRT Week slated for Oswego Speedway. The makeshift series spotlighted tracks throughout the state and was carried on DIRTVision TV. According to Bartlett, weekly pay-per-view stream views via Dirt Track Digest came from Florida, Texas, Ohio and California and said the track will adapt to whatever comes this season.
“We were able to develop a plan and capitalize on it,” Bartlett said. “We did get a great amount support from what we had.”
Bartlett is hoping that instances such as the Buffalo Bills allowing fans for their two AFC playoff games is a precedent for tracks like his. New York state allowed 6,700 spectators into Bills Stadium and there are preliminary plans for Syracuse University to host fans for basketball games at the Carrier Dome. Can-Am’s capacity is 4,000 spectators plus pit crews.
“(The Bills having fans) gives us a little bit of hope,” Bartlett said. “If we don’t see 25-30 percent (capacity), we’ll go back to last year’s model.”
There’s also a glimmer of hope with the authorization of high-risk high school sports, which can begin to take place Feb. 1 with the permission of county health directors. Evans Mills Raceway Park owner Peggy Gill said there’s a chance that her track could open up sometime in the late spring.
“It was shocking to me (that high-risk sports were authorized), but I hope it means this is an indication we can have a season,” said Gill, whose track did not host a race last year.
Can-Am is slated to start its season with the SuperDIRTcar’s “Thunder in the 1,000 Islands” big-block modified event on April 10. But the track will need to be half-full in order for the event to break even or be profitable, Bartlett said.
“For the kind of purses we have to pay out mandated by the series, we have to be at 50-percent capacity, otherwise we’ll have to postpone it to a different date,” he said.
Evans Mills said that they could operate at 30-percent capacity of their 3,000-capacity raceway and hold a season. The track also has 54 suites that can hold four or five people that and are ideal for social distancing.
“We can have a family put their mask on when they go to the concession stand and we can make other provisions,” Gill said.
Evans Mills did toy with the idea of a pay-per-view model like Can-Am but decided against it.
Gill added that she’s received limited communication from the state and is seeking guidance so they can open. She said tracks need to plan a schedule far enough in advance to promote. She did add that she’s received some support from State Senator Patricia Ritchie’s office.
“It was very nice to hear from Senator Ritchie’s office and that I was told my email would reach her,” Gill said. “I’m very optimistic on what she can do.”