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AUTO RACING: Dells Raceway Park opening its 2020 season Saturday

AUTO RACING: Dells Raceway Park opening its 2020 season Saturday

Jim Lapp

Jim Lapp, of Wisconsin Dells, tries to take the lead away from Dave Lembke, or Germantown, during the Bandit feature race on July 6, 2019 at Dells Raceway Park. Lapp finished the 2019 season second in the Bandits points race.

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.

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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