WORTHINGTON -- In deciding the best way to move forward for the 2021 Worthington Speedway racing season, the Nobles County Fair Board considered two obvious sources of guidance -- fans and drivers.
From improvements to the grandstands to improvements for the drivers, and from the planning of racing nights to the efficiency of the events themselves, putting on a good and enjoyable show became priority number one.
“We hear from a lot of people saying they’re happy with the way the show runs,” said fair board president Corey Gronewold, who himself is a stock car racer.
“The biggest thing for me, the No. 1 thing, obviously track preparation and race preparation is huge. The other thing is starting on time and running a good, fast show to get the drivers on the road. You’ve also got to show appreciation to the fans in the grandstand. Because without the fans, there’s no racing.”
Some things just fell into place. Racing day at Fairmont returned to Friday nights, ensuring that Worthington would face less competition for the racing dollar by choosing Saturday nights. Also, Worthington switched from USRA to IMCA racing, a more popular sanctioning body for area drivers.
The fair board enclosed the backstretch wall completely for better driver safety and moved the tire change area to the infield. Portions of the wall in turns three and four have been removed. The grandstand bleachers, which had suffered badly from weathering, are slowly being repaired, and seating planks and walkway planks are being replaced.
“The year’s been going really well,” said Gronewold. “It’s kind of exceeded expectations. Our average is 80 cars, and it’s been in the 90s.
“Part of it is, I think all aspects of racing -- the COVID thing -- kind of changed peoples’ outlook on life. Last year our schedules were so limited and you had to travel so far at the beginning of the year. And I think with our track, the word got out that our track has been smooth and racy.”
This Saturday, July 10, $1,000-to-win Stock Car racing will take place on the local oval, along with $1,000-to-win Sports Mod Specials. Heading into the season, specials weren’t on the docket. But the sponsors stepped up, Gronewold said, and of course higher cash payouts typically mean more cars on the track.
Drivers like smooth tracks two- and three-wide. Worthington’s got it. And fans are taking notice.
“It’s better than what I thought it could possibly be, especially after COVID,” said one longtime racing fan, Mike Carson of Worthington, who also works as a stager -- a job he’s had since 1987.
It’s Carson’s task to make sure cars are lined up properly, and that they get on the track at precisely the right time.
“We have a good show. Fans want to see a show go bang-bang, one after another, instead of having to wait 20 minutes between races,” said Carson, who has also noticed that in spite of COVID-19 impediments in 2020, fans haven’t minded sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and drivers don’t mind working side by side in the pits, either.
Gronewold is very appreciative of the Speedway’s sponsors, which allow for popular promotions to happen. One is the bicycle giveaway, where one boys and one girls bike are awarded. Also, every night is a new special night; a Kids’ Night, a Women’s Night, a Men’s Night, a night where frontline workers (law enforcement, EMTs, etc.) are honored. Gronewold said the average fan attendance is just above 500 -- a number that the fair board had hoped for, but wasn’t sure would get.
More special nights are coming up. July 17 is Teen Night, where teen-agers receive free sodas, Gatorade and water. July 31 is Veterans Night, where military IDs allow vets in for free. Fair Night is Aug. 7.
“We hear a lot of people saying they’re happy with the way the show runs. We haven’t gone past 10 o’clock all year, and in the past it would go to 11, sometimes 12 o’clock at night,” Gronewold pointed out.
“Give ‘em what they want,” said Carson, “and the fans will keep coming back.”