Luxemburg race track promoters use last year’s lessons to prepare for 2021 season opener
LUXEMBURG – Last year saw a group new to auto racing promoting take the reins at The 'Burg Speedway, the track's third promoter in three years, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to cause a delayed, slightly shortened season and limited fan capacity.
But the Kewaunee County Racing Association not only survived the weird circumstances surrounding their first season but exceeded expectations in some cases, and the group is back to bring Sunday evening racing to the third-mile clay oval at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds for 2021 and beyond.
And now that they've got their feet wet in the promotion game, the five-person association plans to apply the lessons learned in 2020 to a new season with several noteworthy races, starting with the May 16 "COVID Crusher" season opener.
The major change fans will notice this year, track public relations spokesman Joe Orsini said, is that the grandstands are expected to be completely open. Every other row of the stands was roped off during the 2020 season as a public health precaution to help enforce social distancing among fans, but with coronavirus vaccines being administered since early this year and COVID-19 cases in the county staying relatively steady or declining in recent weeks, Orsini said he hopes fans will be able to sit where they want.
Also, the grandstands have a capacity of about 3,500, so with half the seats closed last year, the capacity was about 1,750. Average attendance at last season's eight races was just over 800 with a high figure of 1,500 for a "'Burg for a Buck" $1 admission night, so exceeding capacity wasn't an issue.
Orsini said the association will discuss final seating plans with the county's Promotions & Recreation Department and Public Health Department before opening night, but he said the track will continue to ask fans to socially distance themselves in the stands and respect the health precautions of other fans, with the track announcer issuing reminders over the loudspeakers. Also, squares to mark six-foot separations remain on the ground for lines at the concession stand and ticket window and hand sanitizer remains available at any site where money changes hands.
"It's going to be a little looser than last year, but we're still going to encourage people to social distance," Orsini said. "This year we'll try to do without (roping off grandstand rows) and go on the honor system."
Another change Orsini hopes fans notice is better racing because of better track conditions, which he said is the biggest lesson learned from last year. Those who prepare dirt tracks for racing need to manage the condition of the surface on a weekly basis: tracks that are too dry may not allow a variety of useable lanes for cars to pass each other, as well as being dusty and unpleasant for fans, but those too wet can break down quickly.
"We knew what a lot of hurdles were going to be," Orsini said, "but one of the biggest hardships we had was actually with the track itself. The first few weeks, we struggled to get the track prepared consistently … There was a little bit of an overreaction on our part. One week would be dry and dusty, so the next week would be too wet and the track would get rutted up. It was a struggle to find the right balance."
However, Orsini said dust has been an issue at the track for several years, and he thinks the association learned to better prepare the track over the course of last year and will be able to better prepare it this season. He said the group had other people with experience in dirt track preparation come in to help in the middle of last season.
And Brad Theys, a regular racer at The 'Burg in his IMCA Modified who works in excavating during the day, offered "a ton of advice" on dirt work and ran a tractor over the track for a couple days last summer, which Orsini said was a huge help.
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For 2021, along with that experience and advice, the association also has a new water truck that gives the group the chance to spray a mist on the track during a show instead of soaking it down, and there's another new truck that Osini said will help pack down the surface and make it smoother than it was in 2020. All of which means Orsini expects the racing action will be better.
"We'll try to work in the top side (of the track) a little more to be able to run three or four lanes safely and consistently," he said.
Orsini expects the number of race cars competing in the track's five classes to be about the same as last year, meaning about 120 cars a night. He said support from the race teams has been great, with some stepping up to help in ways outside of just showing up at the pit gate.
Along with the Theys anecdote above, another example came when the track's electronic scoring loop, normally buried underground, became exposed in the middle of the season. Dennis Miesler, owner of Miesler Construction in Luxemburg, races at The 'Burg in the IMCA Sportmod class along with his granddaughter Mackenzie Simonar, and Miesler sent a crew to the track to spend a day re-burying the scoring loop.
Also, most of last year's track sponsors returned and several new ones are on board, which Orsini said shows the level of support in the community for the track.
"I think as the season went on, the drivers saw we were trying to make the track better," Orsini said. "There's a ton of people and businesses in the community that want to see that track succeed. At times it was overwhelming."
As for the actual racing, The 'Burg is presenting a 12-race season with several noteworthy shows on tap.
Perhaps the biggest is scheduled for July 18 with the first Eric Van Iten Memorial, commemorating the racer who died of cancer in January. That night's racing will pay out $35,000 in total purses across all classes, with $5,000 to win the IMCA Modified and Stock Car classes. With the big purses and IMCA (the International Motor Contest Association sanctioning body) advertising the event, Orsini expects modified and stock car racers from across the country to come to town.
"It'll be the biggest event of the year, probably the biggest event in the history of the track," Orsini said. "You see events at other tracks where they pay $5,000 to win for the modifieds or that much for the stock cars, but it's very rare to see both on the same night. It's a big undertaking for us, but I think it's going to go smoothly."
Another major racing night is set for two weeks later, with Mod Mania. The Aug. 1 program is a celebration of 35 years of the IMCA Modified class racing at Luxemburg, and Orsini said the track is one of just six in the country to host the class on a weekly basis that many years. He expects racers from across the country to appear for this special event, too, and vintage modified racers will take laps on track as part of the celebration.
And after an absence of several years, the Fall Classic returns to the speedway Oct. 2 with a post-race performance by Fox Valley-based rock band Stricken. Another memorial race is set for June 27 for former promoter Rick Goral, and traditional programs like the Big Wheel Races night and Back to School backpack giveaway are set for Aug. 8 and 15, respectively.
All in all, Orsini said the association believes what they went through in 2020 set the stage for a successful 2021.
"We're very, very happy with how last year went," he said. "Word got out that we're a fast-paced show, so people were able to get home at a reasonable hour. We work hard to put on the best racing the area has to offer.
"We want to keep going in the right direction. We're a lot more confident in what we're doing this year. We're really excited about the 2021 season."
The 'Burg Speedway is at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 Third St., Luxemburg. Five classes of cars will compete Sunday nights: IMCA Modified, IMCA Sport Mod, IMCA Stock Car, Street Stock and 4-cylinder Sport Compact. Grandstands open at 3 p.m., racing starts at 5 and is planned to be finished by 9. Admission is $10 for ages 14 and older; pit admission is $25 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: Luxemburg race track promoters use last year's lessons to prepare for 2021 season opener