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Davenport Speedway opening was “crazy” and “awesome”

Davenport Speedway
Dennis Krieger Imagery Photo

By: Don Doxsie

When the local auto racing season finally got going Friday night at Davenport Speedway, there was a great deal of speculation over how many cars would be in action on the quarter-mile dirt oval at Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.

Ricky Kay of K Promotions, which staged the event, said there were a lot of side bets about that. He guessed there might be as many as 100 cars, slightly more than usual. Others were guessing 130, 140, 160.

“I thought they were all crazy,’’ Kay said.

They weren’t. A total of 160 cars turned out for the first event of the season, which was run without fans in attendance but was available for viewing online on a pay-per-view basis.

“I think everybody’s tired of being cooped up and it was a pretty nice day out and everybody’s ready to do something,’’ said Justin Kay of Wheatland, Iowa, Ricky’s son and one of the top dirt track drivers in the country.

Shawn Loter, the general manager of the fairgrounds, said he wasn’t at all surprised by the turnout.

“Everybody was eager to get out and start racing and it was a beautiful evening,’’ he said. “I’ll take it just to get started.’’

Ricky Kay said that with very few other tracks in the Midwest opening up yet because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers who never have run at Davenport flocked to the fairgrounds.

“I know we had one car from Wisconsin,’’ he said. “About half our cars come from Illinois anyway. We had requests from Indiana, Michigan. We had cars from the Des Moines area. Burlington wasn’t racing. Guys just want to race.

“It’s the love of racing,’’ he added. “It’s a disease.’’

Kay described the evening as “crazy’’ and “awesome.’’

Even on nights last year when Davenport attracted fields of 80 or 90 cars, it sometimes was difficult to get all the races completed prior to the track’s self-imposed 10:30 p.m. curfew. He admitted they went a little past curfew this time.

He continues to get inquiries from new drivers for this Friday’s races but he is thinking he may need to cap things at 160 cars just to be able to get in all the races.

As part of the COVID-19 measures, it was recommended that the drivers wear masks before and after the races, although it was not required. Obviously, no one wore masks while the races were in progress since the drivers were not coming into contact with anyone else.

And, of course, there were no spectators allowed although everyone involved said that was barely noticeable. Because of the roar of the engines, the drivers can’t hear the crowd anyway.

“You don’t look up there to see who’s looking at you,’’ Ricky Kay said. “And us guys that are working on the track, we’re not looking up there either. We’re trying to direct traffic and wreckers to get cars on and off the track. We’re not looking up there. So, was it odd? No, not really.’’

Justin Kay said he only noticed it after the races were done.

“Usually afterwards, when the race is over, people come down from the stands and they mill around and you talk to everybody,’’ he said. “So that was kind of different. We were done racing and you pack up and you leave. Usually you hang around for an hour or two, talk about how the race went.’’

Loter said he is optimistic that fans may be allowed in to watch the races by the end of this month. He was in contact with the governor’s office Monday regarding not only the races but the annual Mississippi Valley Fair, a huge event that is scheduled for August 5-9.

“I think it could be even 50% spectators (for racing),” he said “What that grandstand holds is their normal Friday night crowd but it wouldn’t be a problem to distance people if it came to that.”

For now, it’s still possible for fans to see the races.

Friday’s event was televised on a pay-per-view basis on Speedsporttv with Done Right TV handling the production. It’s something K Promotions considered doing last year and with no fans allowed, it decided to try it this season. This Friday’s race also will be aired on the same website, for $20 per viewing.

“It’s what we had to do to try to make some money on this, to break even anyway,’’ Ricky Kay said.

Justin Kay, a four-time IMCA Late Model national champion (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017), said he normally would have raced 15 to 20 times by this point in the spring. His earliest scheduled race this year was March 30 and he normally runs 3 or 4 nights a week. His original schedule for this season called for him to drive 11 times in a span of 14 days in the month of June.

As it is, this was his first time out this year. He managed to win the IMCA Modified feature and was third in the IMCA Late Model feature.

“Overall, I think it went pretty well,’’ he said.

“I think it was good for everybody’s mental health to get back out there.’’

Don Doxsie | The Quad City Times | May 18, 2020