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Bowman Gray racing season is officially canceled
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Bowman Gray racing season is officially canceled

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Bowman Gray Stadium’s racing season has been officially canceled.

Officials with Winston-Salem Speedway Inc., which runs the NASCAR-sanctioned series, sent an email to drivers this morning.

Series promoter Gray Garrison said the increase in the number of coronavirus cases made the decision the right one.

“With the latest guidelines by the governor, we likely wouldn’t be able to get to full capacity for quite a while,” Garrison said of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase Two orders that cap outside gatherings at 25 people.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services today reported an additional 2,160 cases of the virus, up from 1,782 on Wednesday. The single-day high is 2,462, which was set Saturday. The Forsyth County Department of Public Health reported 96 new cases for a total of at least 3,946 since mid-March. The number of COVID-19 deaths remained at 40.

“Our plan is to make that 72nd season the best yet, so that’s what we are hoping for,” Garrison said. “It’s unfortunate this is where we are as a country, but we are praying and hoping that this thing turns around and we can all be safe again.”

Now that both of Bowman Gray Stadium's tenants, racing and Winston-Salem State football, have canceled their seasons, the city of Winston-Salem will take a significant hit financially. According to Ben Rowe, an assistant city manager, no racing season means a loss of $72,640.

Rent that Winston-Salem Racing Inc. pays to the city was waived.

Garrison said other losses would be felt in and around Bowman Gray Stadium.

"I don't know what the numbers would be, but when you think of restaurants and other businesses in the city that's a big hit," Garrison said. "It's no telling what the loss is economically for all of those businesses. You look at a place like Kermit's Hot Dog House (on Thomasville Road a mile away), and they are slammed on Saturday nights. So there's definitely a ripple effect of us not racing at all."

An email to Bowman Gray Stadium fans said that an extended Phase Two prompted the cancellation.

"We believe it is highly unlikely that Governor Cooper will significantly relax these restrictions in August or even September," the email read.

Driver Jason Myers said he wasn’t surprised that the season is canceled.

“I was kind of like everybody else in that we had a little hope we could run out there this year,” Myers said. “But we kind of figured it wasn’t going to happen, so we just have to ride this thing out as best that we can.”

Myers said he still finds it hard to not get up on summer Saturday mornings and head to Bowman Gray Stadium.

“It’s still strange to me because we’ve been going to the track for as long as I can remember,” Myers said.

Chase Robertson, 15, a third-generation driver at the historic track following his grandfather, Gerald, and his father, Mike, was hoping to have a successful second season. He raced as a 14-year-old last season and held his own.

"Being that it is my second season, it’s very unfortunate," said Robertson, a rising sophomore at Oak Grove High School. "We had such a good season in 2019, I was really looking forward to building off of that. We will stay focused and be ready for 2021."

While Robertson is one of the youngest drivers at the stadium, one of the oldest is Randy Butner, 60, of Pfafftown.

"We kind of all knew this was coming and it's a shame for everybody involved," Butner said. "There's such a tradition out there, and it's what we do on the weekends. I just hope that we can all go out there next April and this is all behind us."

Butner said that while other sports are playing without fans, doing likewise at Bowman Gray wouldn't have been worthwhile.

"The fans have to be there, or that place doesn't exist," Butner said. "It's why we all do it and it's why racing there is so much fun. I couldn't imagine racing with even partial crowds or whatever could have been worked out. It's called 'The Madhouse' for a reason, and that just doesn't work if there aren't any fans."

jdell@wsjournal.com

(336) 727-4081

@johndellWSJ

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