KRA, start your engines
Read how racing is back in Willmar as dirt track preps for season opener
WILLMAR — Laying calm and dormant throughout the first half of 2020, KRA Speedway finally will bring back the thunder of cars ripping around the track.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the first six races of the year, and those events likely won’t be made up, but race fans will get to hear the roar of the engines in the season opener on Thursday. The green flag is scheduled to fly at the three-eighths mile, semi-banked dirt track shortly after 7 p.m., kicking off a tentatively-scheduled stretch where drivers will battle for the checkered flag during eight of the next nine weeks.
Seven classes — Pure Stock, WISSOTA Modifieds, Super Stocks, Midwest Modifieds, Street Stocks, Mod Fours and Hornets — will be in action.
Shut down due to the coronavirus, KRA got the O.K. to race again after Gov. Tim Walz announced loosen restrictions under Phase III of the state’s plans to reopen Minnesota. Falling under the category of an outdoor entertainment venue, the speedway is allowed to have up to 250 fans in the grandstands and other designated areas of the track.
On June 9, the good news was posted to the fans on KRA’s website and Facebook page.
“We’re in the entertainment business and I hate to say this, but there’s no reason to race without fans,” KRA board president Justin Hedtke said. “That’s like playing a movie at a movie theater without people sitting in the seat.
“Without the fans, there wouldn’t be any racing.”
Before the side-by-side racing could get going, Hedtke and the speedway’s six other board members were responsible for devising a safety plan.
As always, when fans arrive at the track, they will be able to purchase wristbands to get into the facility from their vehicles just outside of the track rather than at a box office. What’s new is that inside of the venue, markers have been placed in the grandstands as people will be asked to sit six feet apart. Furthermore, people will be asked to stay in their designated area. In the past, pit members from the race teams were allowed to go into the grandstands, but this season, that is prohibited.
“We’re doing whatever we can,” Hedtke said.
When fans walk to the concession stand, beer stall or head for the restrooms, they’re encouraged to remain socially distant. Also, masks and facial coverings are recommended.
Lastly, if someone has recently tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, they are asked to stay home.
The same goes for drivers and crew members in the pit. But on the track, given that drivers are in their cars, keeping a social distance isn’t a problem in that regard.
“It’s not a contact sport. Well, I mean it is, but with cars, not with people, you know,” Hedtke said with a laugh.
With the race track back open for business, the high-speed activity could help provide a boost to the economy.
Originally scheduled for early August, the annual Kandiyohi County Fair, held at the same fairgrounds as the track, has been canceled. But with racing resuming, the county won’t suffer a total loss this summer.
Additionally, the economics are vital for the race teams and supporters of KRA as well. The sport of auto racing isn’t an inexpensive one, and whether it’s the drivers and crews working all week to prepare and repair their cars or companies investing in the teams and the overall health of the speedway, racing remains impactful.
“There’s a lot of businesses that do actually rely on and make living off of parts and tire sales,” says Hedtke, who builds racing engines and owns an auto shop in Atwater. “It’s an economy all on its own. And with all the sponsors, we have sponsors that have stuck with us through this deal.”
Elsewhere in the area, Grove Creek Raceway in Grove City was the first venue to flash the green light as the one-eighth mile drag strip had events on June 13. Next, Atwater Karting Speedway celebrated its 20th year of racing by starting its season on June 20. Madison Speedway is looking to open its track on July 11. According to its website, Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo does not have an open date scheduled at the moment.