JACKSON -- On the track, racing is still racing at southwest Minnesota’s prestigious racing jewel. But without more fans, which increases the purses -- which increases the number of drivers -- the Jackson Motorplex continues to run in place.
And that’s not good enough, said Motorplex general manager Doug Johnson on Monday.
Jackson’s oval track can hold up to 7,500 fans. The Motorplex hosted the 42nd annual AGCO Jackson Nationals last weekend, and several compelling stories were written by the drivers. But due to coronavirus restrictions that have yet to be relaxed in Minnesota, the number of spectators was limited.
“We weren’t even close to that,” Johnson said of the 7,500.
Dealing with the state to open up the track has been, in Johnson’s words, “extremely frustrating.” Neighboring states like Wisconsin and South Dakota have allowed dirt track racing to open to full capacity, but Minnesota lags.
Johnson said that he feels as if he and other track managers have been ignored by the state’s political leaders. And this comes after he submitted two separate plans to the state.
“The bottom line is, right now, we’re in survival mode,” Johnson said.
He opened up concessions for the first time last weekend.
The racing schedule, he said, is basically going forward two weeks at a time, though the schedule is set up to continue through September.
There were 44 teams at the weekend World of Outlaws races. That was about what was expected, Johnson said. But there’s more opportunity being left on the table.
The Jackson track is renowned enough that many loyal drivers still enjoy racing there for routine events. But there are some Minnesota drivers lured to other tracks in other states, where fans are free to congregate in large groups and the purses are bigger. Johnson said he needs to pay bigger purses to compete.
“The drivers go where the money is,” he said, adding that Jackson needs more fans to increase the purses, which in turn bring in more drivers.
Ironically, dirt track racing remains a big summer draw, generally.
“Absolutely. No doubt about it. I go to a lot of dirt tracks all over the country,” Johnson said. “I’d say dirt track racing is as popular as it’s ever been.”
The ACGO Jackson Nationals has always been a very popular driver event, competing with the Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal, National Open, World Finals and DIRTcar Nationals, among other top draws. On Saturday, despite the fact that fewer fans were in attendance due to coronavirus realities, the payout was significant.
Logan Schuchart, of Hanover, Pa., earned a $30,000 paycheck on Saturday as the 2020 champion. And upon winning, he threw a bouquet to the track itself.
“This is the fastest we’ve ever been at Jackson. The cool thing about this place, most race tracks when they take rubber it’s really tough to pass. This place seems to take it on the top and it works its way down. It makes you guess,” he said.