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AUTO RACING: Dells Raceway Park opening its 2020 season Saturday
AUTO RACING

AUTO RACING: Dells Raceway Park opening its 2020 season Saturday

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LICHTFELD WINS SHOWDOWN

Portage's Mike Lichtfeld was the overall Late Model champion during the 8th Annual September Showdown on at the Dells Raceway Park last September. Lichtfeld also finished ninth in the track's final Late Models season points standings. Dells Raceway Park is set to begin its 2020 racing season on Saturday night.

NASCAR made its official return to action last weekend after a lengthy break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Dells Raceway Park is hoping to follow suit on Saturday, when it is set to open its 2020 regular season with a full schedule of racing action.

And while Jerry Auby, the track’s general manager, is excited to begin a new season, he knows Saturday’s opener will be unlike any other.

“It’s all different. It’s unprecedented territory,” Auby said. “We watched NASCAR do it last week. They did a really good job. I’m just really fortunate and appreciative to be able to have fans in the stands, otherwise we can’t make it go. We don’t have TV money coming our way.”

Fans will indeed be allowed to attend Saturday’s races at the third-mile asphalt track located about 2 ½ miles northwest of Wisconsin Dells, but according to Auby, everyone will be required to follow social distancing guidelines.

“It’s a new world. COVID-19 has definitely changed everything here,” Auby said. “We got to work on social distancing, just like you would if you went to a Menards or Walmart. You got to have the social distancing signs up in the stands and things of that nature.”

Auby said employees will be wearing face masks, but fans are not required to wear them. During a practice session hosted at the track last weekend, teams were spaced out by using every-other pit stall.

Fans will notice plenty of other changes at Saturday’s races.

“There’s no fans allowed down in the pits afterwards. Everybody needs to clear out. There’s not a lot of socializing and beer drinking and having a good time,” Auby said. “The playground is roped off. The victory lane celebrations will not be up top where the fans can cheer. They will be down on the track only, with the trophy presentation and the driver.”

Auby said the track will still have its food stands open, but will following health guidelines

“It’s going to be more like going through a drive thru at a KFC or McDonald’s, where the food has to be prepackaged in a bag or in a box,” Auby said. He also said the track will be accepting cash, but they did recently install seven new credit card machines at the track, and are encouraging fans to use credit cards instead of cash.

Saturday’s racing schedule includes Late Models, Modifieds, Sportsman and Bandit divisions. Gates will open at 3 p.m. with qualifying at 4:45 p.m., followed by racing at 6 p.m. The regular season will continue on Saturday nights through the Aug. 29 season championship night.

A number of Portage-area drivers finished in the top 10 in the points standings last season. Montello’s Bobby Kendall finished seventh in the Super Late Models. In the Legends division, Poynette’s Dillon Schwanbeck had one feature win and five top-five finishes en route to finishing fourth in the points standings. Endeavor’s Cole Gray was ninth in the last season’s Legends Division points standings.

In the Late Models, Rio’s Hanna Raley finished eighth, while Portage’s Mike Lichtfeld had five top-five finishes on his way to finishing ninth in the final standings.

In the Sportsman division, Poynette driver Collin Tomlinson had four top-five finishes and was fifth in the final standings. Bic Arendsee, of Wisconsin Dells, was eighth in the final Sportsman standings.

The Bandits division saw Jim Lapp, of Wisconsin Dells, finish second, just 23 points behind division champion, Jeremy Bredeson, of DeForest. Also in the Bandits division, Portage’s Jordan Hoffman finished sixth, while Portage’s Conrad Rothenburger used a pair of feature wins to finish ninth in the final standings. Portage’s Ron Coppernoll won one Bandits feature race and was 10th in the final standings.

Auby expects many of the track’s regular drivers to show up on Saturday.

“There are a few that are probably going to stay home. We should have a very good car count, even with that,” Auby said. “Saturday at the practice, everybody practiced social distancing and kept their separation. People are so used to it, it’s amazing that you don’t have to pull people apart or tell them not to gather. It’s just kind of a natural thing.”

Auby is grateful that the track is allowed to kick off its 58th season of racing.

“It’s a very uneasy time, because 51% of Wisconsinites, from what I understand, are still in favor of the stay-at-home (order) and 49% want to open,” Auby said. “Well I guess that’s called freedom. If you don’t want to come out, you can stay home and be safe. If you want to come out, you can.”

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