The ‘Burg Speedway says it’s had a ‘pretty successful season’ heading into final race date
LUXEMBURG – It certainly would have been understandable if the racing season hadn't gone well at The 'Burg Speedway this summer.
Instead, the season has gone as well or better than expected under trying circumstances, the track promoter said.
The third-mile clay oval at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds was seeing its third promoter run the track in three years after the 2018 and 2019 seasons were financial flops for the previous groups, which rent the track from the county. Last year's average attendance, estimated between 250 and 300 a week, was an all-time low since the track reopened for weekly shows in 1987.
And while the new promoter, the Kewaunee County Racing Association, is made up of five people with experience in various aspects of local racing, none had promoted before.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring and the state issued a safer-at-home order that lasted into mid-May, which saw The 'Burg postpone its season-opening race program from May 17 to June 14, losing its first two planned dates of the what was supposed to be a 13-race season.
Finally, after getting through the first half of the season with good weather for its Sunday evening shows, rain — the mortal enemy of race promoters everywhere — caused three of the last five planned shows to be canceled.
Thus, only seven of 12 scheduled races have taken place so far, with Sunday's Championship Night, when season points champions will be determined in all five classes, the last program on the slate.
But despite all these factors working against the association, public relations spokesman Joe Orsini said the group's first season has gone quite well, and he hopes they can return to promote racing at The 'Burg next year and beyond.
"We had a pretty successful season," Orsini said. "Financially, we were able to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 craziness."
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Among several changes at and to the track, the association switched race days from Friday nights — the traditional slot for The 'Burg, but one which put it in competition with nearby tracks in Seymour and Chilton — to Sundays, when no other speedways in the area run weekly shows. The idea was to not only increase fan attendance but the number of racers competing regularly at the track, where the car count for its five classes plummeted to an average of 64 last year.
The changes seem to have worked. Orsini said spectator attendance has been fairly consistent throughout the season at 700 to 800 on average, and car counts — which matter to the promoter's bottom line because race teams pay for entry fees and pit passes — have been 120 or more each week, with a high of 146 in the season's second week.
The most recent program, Aug. 23, saw 134 cars race in front of about 1,500 fans on "'Burg for a Buck Night" with $1 spectator admissions. It also doubled as the track's Hall of Fame Night honoring new inductees to the speedway's honor roll after the original date was one of those called off by rain.
Orsini hopes those who've patronized the speedway come out Sunday for Championship Night. Besides being the final show of the season, he noted the leaders in the IMCA Modified and Street Stock divisions hold points leads of just single digits, with the top four drivers in the premier-level Modifieds separated by just nine points.
Orsini said the income from admissions is enough to help make ends met for the association despite being limited by health precautions instituted for the pandemic. Working with county officials, the track blocked seating in every other row of the grandstands this summer, limiting capacity to 1,750, half its usual total, and Orsini said he understands some fans may have chosen to not attend spectator events until the health situation is clarified.
"(Average attendance) might be a little less than we hoped for pre-COVID-19," Orsini said, "But it's enough for us to be financially viable and put some money away for future expenditures."
Along with the limited capacity, the track worked on sanitizing and encouraging social distancing of six feet between people to meet the health precautions, and spectators are strongly encouraged (although not required) to wear masks and practice social distancing. Race teams are asked to remain within their pit stalls to minimize contact with others.
Orsini said he's not aware of any racers or team members at The 'Burg this year who've tested positive for COVID-19, nor is he aware of virus outbreaks among fans. He said that's been the case at most other tracks with weekly programs in eastern Wisconsin, although The Hill Raceway in Sturgeon Bay canceled its season before it got started in May and other short tracks across the country have encountered problems.
For example, Knowville Raceway in Iowa, one of the premier dirt tracks in the nation, this week canceled the remainder of its season after three drivers and various other team members who competed there from Aug. 13 to 15 in one of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series' biggest races of the year tested positive.
"We haven't had too many issues or complaints," Orsini said. "The fans who felt the need to wear masks, did so. We just got on top of it and, knock on wood, we haven't seen any tracks in the area with outbreaks. We think we've been safe and successful. I think we've been a little more stringent than other tracks."
Orsini said two of the track's best nights involved special promotions for youths in attendance. Back to School Night on Aug. 9 saw children receive backpacks donated by race teams along with Big Wheel races, and a Hot Wheels giveaway was held last Sunday after the original Aug. 16 date was rained out.
"It definitely was worthwhile to get those backpacks in the hands of those kids," Orsini said. "It put a smile on their faces. Same for the Hot Wheels promotion. It was just a fun night, a lot of fun for everyone."
Despite their relative inexperience, the association got through the season so far without major glitches, Orsini said. The main problem they encountered was preparing the track each week to retain enough moisture so dust wouldn't become a problem as cars raced over its clay surface.
"There were some growing pains at first with track preparation," Orsini said. "We made some changes, got some advice from the drivers, from some people in the area who used to do track prep."
Looking ahead, Orsini said the association hopes to continue promoting The 'Burg next year and beyond. He said when they meet with the county, the group plans to ask for a significant amount of new clay for the track, which would help retain moisture. He said the track has had smaller amounts of new clay added in past years but just in spots, not enough to resolve the moisture situation.
"That's what we're hoping," Orsini said. "We've got to sit down with the county and discuss options … I don't think we're asking too much for it."
After making physical improvements before this season, including a new Victory Lane and general sprucing up, another hoped-for project on the horizon is some sort of way to commemorate the track's Hall of Fame members. That could range from banners to a permanent wall to recognize Hall members. Orsini said the association also is working with Steve Haen, a longtime local fan who's kept and collected race reports and statistics through the years, to create a record of the track's history.
"So, we've got a lot of projects we want to do in the off-season," Orsini said.
The Championship Night racing program is Sunday at The 'Burg Speedway at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 Third St., Luxemburg. Season points champions will be crowned in five classes. Grandstands open at 4 p.m., racing starts at 5 and is planned to be finished by 9. Grandstand admission is $10 for ages 14 and older. For more information, visit "The 'Burg Speedway" Facebook page.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: The 'Burg Speedway says it's had a 'pretty successful season' heading into final race date