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Race tracks revved up as state gives green light for practices

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Star Speedway

Star Speedway

By Jason Schreiber

While races are still on hold and the spectator stands will remain empty, race tracks are now allowed to hold practice runs with some restrictions as the state begins to reopen.

The practices are the first step in getting New Hampshire’s stalled racing season underway and will help the tracks begin generating revenue once again.

The decision to allow practices brought a sense of relief to track owners such as Bobby Webber, who has been pushing to reopen Star Speedway in Epping for limited practice sessions without spectators.

“(Racers) accept that they can’t race right now, but they just want to be able to play with their cars. This will appease them for a while,” he said.

Webber has been confused and frustrated as his and other tracks remained closed, yet other businesses have begun to reopen.

Track owners and local officials learned Tuesday that practices could be held, but only if groups were limited to 10 people or fewer, and crews practiced proper social distancing.

Webber said he hopes to begin renting out his track for practice time on Friday with practices continuing this weekend.

Under his plan, Webber said Star will allow no more than six people in a group per car. He said he would allow five cars in the pit area at the track on Friday and 30 over the weekend, but barrels have been lined up at the track to create enough distance between the groups with each car.

Webber said the groups must stay in their own spaces and hand sanitizer will be made available.

“I just want to get something rolling and have some sense of normalcy. I’m happy with anything I can get,” he said.

Epping Emergency Management Director Don DeAngelis said that, in the governor’s “Stay at Home 2.0” order updated Monday, race tracks were listed as an attraction that would open at a later phase, but state officials on Tuesday announced the change to allow practices.

DeAngelis said he didn’t see a problem with the practices.

Webber recently proposed a plan to reopen for practices, but selectmen denied the request pending a decision from the state.

While other tracks remained closed as they waited for word from the state, at least one has already allowed practices.

The owner of Riverside Speedway in Groveton — a village in Northumberland — confirmed that the track has held practices, but he declined to comment further.

The speedway posted a message on its Facebook page Sunday thanking those who practiced social distancing when practices were held.

Northumberland Selectmen Chairman Chris Wheelock said the town left it up to the track to decide how to proceed.

“I just encouraged the track owner that he needed to do what he felt was best and to stay within the guidelines of what the state was offering,” he said, adding that the town isn’t going to “get into policing” social distancing recommendations.

He said Northumberland selectmen voted to allow some restaurants that don’t have patios or decks to place tables and chairs on town sidewalks so they can begin offering outdoor seating.

“We’re just trying to work with our local businesses,” he said. “When this is all said and done, whatever the new normal is … we want our businesses to still be around.”

Hudson Speedway owner Ben Bosowski said he can only have races on Sundays, but since races can’t be held at this time, he hopes to offer practices, possibly as early as this Sunday.

With the track closed, Bosowski said he’s used the down time to make some repairs to the track.

“All of my race guys have been wanting to come down, but they understand the situation,” he said.

By Jason Schreiber | Union Leader Correspondent | May 19, 2020

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