We’ll probably remember March 13, 2020 for a long time in the United States.
That was the Friday afternoon that our new realities became increasingly clear, with President Donald J. Trump declaring a national state of emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic that was starting to spiral out of control; officially acknowledging the changing course of the still new year.
It was a frustrating trip around the Sun for everyone, especially in those first few months of the shutdown when everyone was still trying to understand how to proceed.
We’re getting there, even if we’re not all the way through it yet.
The pavement short track community has made the most of the status quo, with the 2020 season producing no shortage of interesting moments, both before and after the initial outbreak.
While some tracks were forced to close or at least shutter for the entire year, other tracks and touring divisions experienced a growth in car counts due to the consolidation of the industry. There were close finishes, thrilling championship battles and broken records.
New feuds began as older ones rekindled.
While the industry successfully navigated through a complicated 2020, its leaders also began laying the foundation for an interesting 2021, especially as it pertains to the evolving digital streaming landscape.
We’ll remember 2020 for a lot of reasons, but the racing was memorable, too.
With that said, here are the most impactful short track stories of 2020.
50. iRacing Scans and Releases North Wilkesboro
This is important because Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway has earned a reputation of being the quintessential short track. Whether that reputation is warranted, motorsport fans will forever be able to enjoy what made Wilkesboro so special even if the track never hosts a real-life race again. The final eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race on FOX Sports took place from digital Wilkesboro and that felt special, even if it was weird to say that about an eSport event.
49. Canada Opens for Pinty’s and APC
The window for motorsports north of the border is so small even without the pandemic, so it was especially disheartening that racing couldn’t begin in May for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series and APC United Pro Late Model Series. Alas, Canada permitted six-race seasons to take place without fans but via online streams or tape-delayed TV broadcasts with both seasons beginning in August. Jason Hathaway and Jo Lawrence won the Pinty’s and APC championships respectively.
48. Craig Murto Dies at 60
To know Craig Murto was to genuinely love him. The veteran short track reporter died in January at 60 years old. In recent years, he was the operator of Late Model Racer magazine. He began his journalism career in 1992 writing for Stopwatcher Magazine. His career also allowed him to cover NASCAR national touring. He championed the discipline wherever he went and his professionalism was only matched by his heart.
47. Irwindale All-Star Challenge Returns as SLM Race
Fans have fond memories of NASCAR’s annual exhibition race at Irwindale Speedway in California and it was revived as a Super Late Model race under SRL SPEARS Southwest Tour sanctioning and with support from Bob Bruncati and Sunrise Ford. Derek Thorn won the race against a 30-car field that included western aces Preston Peltier, Jeremy Doss and Dylan Lupton.
46. Ryan Luza Wins in Late Model Comeback
It had been 1,512 days since Ryan Luza had driven a Pro Late Model, but he made the comeback count with a flag-to-flag victory in the Prelude to the Florida Governor’s Cup 50 at New Smyrna Speedway in November. Luza had won the Pro Late Model championship at Five Flags Speedway in 2015 but a lack of funding sidelined his racing career in 2016. He has since become an iRacing superstar at the highest digital NASCAR levels. He won in his return to an actual Late Model and translated that success into a competitive appearance in the Snowflake 100 in December.
45. Record Southwest Tour Car Counts
The pandemic did not allow very many opportunities to race out in California or the West Coast. The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour made the most of a presented opportunity as it contested a nine-race season. Each event aired over the internet and drew an average of 25 cars. The penultimate race of the season at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring saw 43 file an entry and attempt to make the main event. Derek Thorn captured his fifth series championship and won eight times.
44. Emotional Year for R&S Race Cars
Industry veterans Marcus Richmond and Steve Stallings partnered to create R&S Race Cars over the winter and planned to chase the NASCAR national championship with Philip Morris driving their house car. After Morris decided to take a sabbatical from racing following the death of his son, Blake, R&S shifted their focus towards the CARS Tour with a variety of fill-in drivers including Sammy Smith, Deac McCaskill and Matt Craig.
43. Wild Finish Nets Butterbean The Heat
The Hampton Heat 200 would be the only race contested in the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it proved to be one of the most thrilling races of the season. While Danny Edwards Jr., Corey Heim and Connor Hall dominated most of the race, Brenden Queen methodically worked his way to the front and found himself in third on a late-race restart. Hall and Heim ended up tangling with each other after Queen took them three-wide on the restart, which enabled Queen to secure the biggest win of his career to date.
42. Rich Bickle’s Impending Retirement
Rich Bickle will be 60-years-old upon leaving the 2021 Snowball Derby this coming December. That seemed like a fine time to walk away and finally retire for real. It seemed like such an ideal set-up that Bickle even made the intent clear almost two years in advance. When he climbs out of a race car for the last time, his resume will include a record five wins in the Derby, three in the NASCAR Truck Series and over 200 short track feature victories across the country.
41. Modified Veteran Wade Cole Dies at 67
Wade Cole had raced in all but one season of the modern series era Modified Tour (1985-present) and accumulated 371 starts across 24 seasons. He started every race in 2019. He was the closest thing to a guaranteed entry the series had. He was known for his blue collar spirit and an open-faced trailer hauled by a flatbed truck.
40. The John Blewett III Memorial 76 Finish
New Smyrna Speedway still maintains Anthony Nocella outdueled Matt Hirschman by .0000000000001. The finish to the John Blewett III Memorial 76 is the closest thing to a identical tie as you can get. It was also an example of everything that’s good about short track racing. Both Nocella and Hirschman had spoken the day before about the right way to race after Craig Lutz muscled his way to a win the night before, and backed it up with action in the closest finish of the year.
39. Frankie Grill Dies at 78
Frankie Grill operated Grand American Race Cars, which he ran with his son Augie in Dolomtie, Alabama until his passing. The organization won 11 Snowball Derbies. Prior to that, it opened as Neil Bonnett Race Cars. Grill worked with Bonnett for several years as they established themselves in the NASCAR and short track industry.
38. New Hampshire Shutters Musket 250
NASCAR and New Hampshire intended to create a signature Modified Tour race and immediately accomplished that goal after one year of the Musket 250. The inaugural running in 2018 produced one of the most thrilling finishes imaginable with Justin Bonsignore and Ryan Preece colliding in Turn 3 while battling for the win — giving Chase Dowling the chance to hold off Patrick Emerling in a drag race to the granite stripe. Bobby Santos won the race in 2019 and 2020 but not present on the 2021 schedule.
37. Langley Speedway’s 2020 Season
Just days before the coronavirus pandemic began to take its toll on the United States, Langley Speedway announced that Vaughan Crittenden would become the track’s new promoter. Crittenden had an unprecedented set of circumstances thrown at him in his first few months on the job, from the pandemic and the shutdowns to the death of popular speedway veteran Shawn Balluzzo. During the 2020 season, Langley Speedway was unable to open to full capacity, but was still able to get many of its races in and reach an audience through NBC Sports Gold’s Trackpass streaming service.
36. Kres VanDyke’s Owns the Jungle
Not only did Kres VanDyke win the Kingsport championship, he did it in epic fashion with 15 wins in 16 races. “To come down here and do what we’ve done this year has been unreal.”
35. Carteret’s Complicated Campaign
Shortly after Ace Speedway was shut down by the state, Carteret County took to the plate to open up with fans in attendance and without a mask mandate – albeit with stricter sanitation standards and social distancing guidelines. The track was met with scrutiny and eventually hit with an abatement order and shut down temporarily. The CARS Tour race at the track was marred by numerous track repairs and incidents and prematurely ended due to curfew. Just two days after the arduous CARS Tour event, the suspended its season to make repairs to the track surface before reopening in November.
34. Charlie Powell Dies at 83
Longtime Florence Motor Speedway owner and promoter Charlie Powell died in August due to complications from COVID-19. Powell was formerly the promoter and owner at Summerville Speedway and the owner of Florence Motor Speedway. He was also the father to 1988 NASCAR Weekly Series champion Robert Powell and two-time regional champion Charles Powell III. Prior to promoting races, he was a racer himself. He was the 1996 national promoter of the year. Powell had retired prior to his passing, selling Florence Motor Speedway to Steve Zacharias.
33. The Messy Short Track Nationals at Bristol
Trevor Noles won his signature trophy at Bristol but largely by attrition, and arguably good engineering, because his car was one of the few to not suffer tire problems at Thunder Valley. All but five teams needed to change tires during the 100-lap race and drivers were left frustrated at Hoosier Tire. There were several crashes, but none were ultimately attributed to the tires. The race is not currently scheduled to return in 2021 due to a scheduling conflict with the new dirt events at Bristol.
32. The Rebirth of Florence
Steve Zacharias was already popular with racers at Myrtle Beach Speedway. When that track closed, Zacharias took over Florence Motor Speedway and, with his knowledge and charisma, he was able to work the same magic at the Timmonsville, South Carolina track. Florence Motor Speedway reopened on Labor Day Weekend and, shortly after, landed a spot on the CARS Tour schedule. The thrilling race entertained fans and put the track back on the map in a big way. In November, Florence began a new tradition with the South Carolina 400.
31. Keith Rocco Wins 18th Championship
With his fourth SK Modified championship at Stafford Motor Speedway, Keith Rocco now has 18 NASCAR Division 1 championships in weekly competition across numerous divisions and tracks during his career. The four SK titles ties Mike Christopher and Bo Gunning for fourth all-time and he only trails Bob Potter with five and Ted Christopher with nine.
30. Justin Bonsignore’s Second NWMT Title
With two championships in three seasons, Justin Bonsignore, crew chief Ryan Stone and Ken Massa Motorsports are eyeing a potential new dynasty in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The No. 51 team has 17 wins over the past three seasons and are poised to be the faces of the division for the foreseeable future. Bonsignore is just 32-years-old.
29. No ARCA East in New England
This was notable from a legacy standpoint. There is nothing about the ARCA East Series that resembles the old Busch North Tour but that lineage was there and no East races at Stafford, Thompson or New Hampshire reminds us that this era is truly over for now.
28. Bobby Santos III’s 2020 Resume
Bobby Santos didn’t race a great deal in 2020 but he made it count when he did winning the Little 500 in a pavement non-wing Sprint at Anderson Speedway and the Musket 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He also had several other wins across Midget, Sprint Car, and Modified competition.
27. Matt Hirschman’s Season
Big Money Matt lived up the moniker in 2020 with four championships in 2020. He opened the year with the World Series of Asphalt championship during New Smyrna Speedweeks. He won the Evergreen Raceway Open Modified championship and the equivalent title at Mohoning Valley Speedway. He also won the Tri Track Open Modified championship. Lastly, he won Race of Champions 250.
26. Old North State Nationals Relocated
The COVID-19 pandemic also saw the CARS Tour move the $30,000-to-win Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway to Greenville-Pickens and from April to October. A full field of 32 cars showed up to take part in the relocated Old North State Nationals. Josh Berry dominated the race while Jared Fryar’s 13th place finish was enough for him to edge out Layne Riggs and Corey Heim in the championship. Barring anymore COVID-19 restrictions, the Old North State Nationals will return to Orange County Speedway on April 25.
25. David Rogers Dies at 64
David Rogers was a Super Late Model icon and the 1994 NASCAR Weekly Series National Champion. He has the most all-time Snowball Derby starts at 33. He was first diagnosed with lymphoma during the winter of 2018-19. That led to Bubba Pollard driving his No. 11 and winning the World Series of Asphalt championship with it. He returned in time to make his 33rd Snowball Derby start in December 2019. He died on March 8. He was a gentleman but a legendary racer.
24. Robert Hamke Dies at 73
Robert Hamke was most reknown for his work as the operator the Hamke Racecars and Parts, one of the most successful parts suppliers across North America. His tenure as a chassis builder also featured one of the most reknown ‘house car’ programs as it took Preston Peltier, Clay Rodgers, Matthew Craig and Stephen Nasse to victory lane. Prior to moving solely to the development side, Hamke was also a successful driver, with two wins in the Florida Governors Cup, when it was contested at Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa.
23. Kevin Harvick Tests Tour Mod at Martinsville
It’s a shame the pandemic happened for a lot of reasons but it may have denied us an opportunity to have seen Kevin Harvick in a Tour Type Modified at Martinsville Speedway. He tested the car on January 21 and made his intentions crystal clear: “I wouldn’t drive it if I didn’t want to race it,” Harvick said with a smile. “Let’s just make that clear. And we’ve talked about that. It was something that will definitely be on my bucket list to go do and I think I’d have fun.” Martinsville will open the 2021 Modified Tour season in April so maybe it’s still on the table.
22. Dale Jr. Tests Late Model at Florence
Before Dale Earnhardt Jr. had established himself as a NASCAR regular and two-time Busch Series champion, he was a Late Model Stock regular at Myrtle Beach and Florence. On the eve of the inaugural of South Carolina 400 weekend, Earnhardt joined his team to turn laps just for fun a track day. Earnhardt used the opportunity to promote the race on social media and Josh Berry teased that he’s encouraged his boss to get behind the wheel for a race someday.
21. CARS Tour Parity
In a year dominated by the pandemic and uncertainty about short track racing, the CARS LMSC Tour managed to put together their most competitive season since their inception back in 2015. Of the ten races contested on the calendar, nine different drivers ended up visiting victory lane. The only driver to claim more than one win in 2020 was Layne Riggs, who brought home checkered flags at Dominion and Carteret County. Corey Heim and Jonathan Findley claimed their first wins with relative ease, but Ryan Millington was forced to hold off Riggs in a photo finish at Ace Speedway following an incident between Josh Berry and Bobby McCarty, while Nolan Pope passed Timothy Peters on the final lap at Florence. With so many different drivers securing victories, one factor that was constant throughout the 2020 was the consistency of Jared Fryar piloting Jimmy Mooring’s Late Model. Fryar only notched one win in a thrilling duel with Mike Looney at Franklin County Speedway, but seven Top-5s and an average finish of 5.3 helped him narrowly claim the championship over Riggs.
20. Rockingham Added to CARS Schedule
The announcement of the 2021 CARS Tour schedule brought a major surprise for both short track and auto racing fans, with the series intending to hold their March 6 season-opener at Rockingham Speedway. Having been inactive since 2013, the CARS Tour returned to the historic facility in December for two tire tests to determine what changes needed to be made ahead of the event. After observing significant wear with the tire brought to the track, the CARS Tour made the decision to postpone the race to Oct. 30 so that a harder tire could be developed.
19. PASS. ACT Promote Thompson
Without this agreement, it’s a possibility that oval racing wouldn’t have happened at the Thompson Speedway oval this past season. Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry will once again promote races at the legendary facility in 2021 with Open Modified races and both respective tours highlighting the schedule in addition to weekly division stalwarts like the Sunoco Modifieds.
18. No Thompson For NASCAR Modified Tour
The 2021 season will mark the first time since the inception of the NASCAR Modified Tour that the division will not be part of Icebreaker weekend at Thompson. The Whelen Modified Tour has been the showcase event for Icebreaker weekend every year the event has been run since 1985. With Thompson’s new promoters emphasizing Open Modified races featuring Tour teams, one of the staple venues of the Tour will not be represented in 2021.
17. Bob Bahre Dies at 93
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway patriarch and former Oxford Plains Speedway owner passed in July. As the owner of Oxford, Bahre grew the western Maine oval into the state’s most prestigious facility, welcoming NASCAR’s premier series to New England in the 1960s and setting the groundwork for the Oxford 250 remaining the richest race in the region. He followed that accomplishment by spearheading the development of NHMS. Bahre was a driver friendly promoter and no one had a crossword to say about him.
16. Johnny Clark Wins Oxford 250
After 14 previous attempts with a best finish of second dating back to 1997, Johnny Clark finally broke through to win the prestigious Oxford 250 on August 31. Before the weekend, Clark said he would trade all six of his PASS North championships for just one win in the richest single-day Late Model race in the country. Clark won after a dominant Jeff Taylor drove through a stop sign on his final pit stop and came down pit road again expecting a penalty that was never issued. Taylor is now 0-19 in the prestigious event.
15. Carson Hocevar Sweeps CRA Triple Crown
It’s one thing to win one of the Redbud 400, Money in the Bank 150 or Winchester 400, but Carson Hocevar won all three of the CRA Triple Crown races in his coming out season as a Super Late Model driver in 2020. He says it was single-handedly the deciding factor in what earned him the chance to go full-time in the Truck Series next season with Niece Motorsports. It’s only a shame that CRA isn’t paying $100,000 for sweeping the three races anymore. Hocevar won two other times in a very successful season.
14. Stafford Splits from NASCAR
The Show is going independent. After a 60-year partnership working with NASCAR as a sanctioned short track, Stafford Speedway will not operate under the NASCAR Weekly Series banner for the 2021 season due to a conflict regarding ownership of streaming and broadcast rights of weekly racing events. The reasons to do so were stated very clearly by track operator Mark Arute: “In the existing format NASCAR owns the rights to any NASCAR sanctioned race produced by Stafford Speedway Productions. With the success of Stafford Speedway TV we no longer see this as a partnership we want to continue.” Stafford will match NASCAR’s purse structure and will continue to pay teams a portion of all PPV streaming revenue.
13. Bubba Pollard v Stephen Nasse at Cordele
The season began in an explosive way in January at Cordele when lingering bad blood between Pollard and Nasse boiled over while they were racing for the lead in CRA Speedfest. Consecutive contact sent Pollard around. Both were sent to the rear. Pollard dumped Nasse. Both parked in the infield and their teams needed to be separated. The quotes were very powerful: “We didn’t like each other before this weekend. We don’t like each other right now. It’s on and off the track. We won’t ever like each other. We are two different people. We’re going to butt heads from here on out.”
12. Ty Majeski Wins in Late Model Stock Debut
Ty Majeski is a special talent for a lot of reasons but all of those traits were on display in the inaugural South Carolina 400. The race was his first in a Late Model Stock piloting a car for Chad Bryant Racing. The team struggled to get a handle on their car throughout the weekend, Majeski admitting his unfamiliarity with the car was a large reason why. There was also an engine issue the required two engine changes over a span of 24 hours. Ultimately, Majeski outdueled Josh Berry, who had won pretty much everything else in LMSC competition that year, to make a statement about his place in the discipline as well.
11. North Carolina V. Ace Speedway
One of the hottest stories in short track racing in 2020 was the political kerfuffle between Robert Turner and Jason Turner, the father-and-son owners of Ace Speedway, and the State of North Carolina. After receiving the blessing to open from Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson in spite of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s COVID-19-related executive orders, Ace Speedway made international headlines and rocked the state’s news cycle. As the track raced, they remained unable to avoid headlines and public scrutiny despite attempts to limit media access, enforce stricter sanitation standards, and declare that their June 5th CARS Tour race was being held “in peaceful protest of injustice and inequality everywhere.” Ace Speedway was able to get three races in, all consecutive and on Saturday nights, before the state took drastic action. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen deemed the track an imminent “public health hazard” and took out an abatement order against the Turners, which led to a long legal struggle that ultimately was won by the state. Throughout the saga, the Turners earned support from racers, the community in Alamance County, and Republicans across the state. Eventually, the track was allowed to reopen within the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.
10. Stephen Nasse V. Ricky Brooks
There are so many layers to this story that a single paragraph isn’t enough. For much of the past 14 months, Nasse’s No. 51 Jett Motorsports team feels as though they have a target on their back from veteran technical inspector Ricky Brooks. Nasse was disqualified from from his flagged 2019 Snowball Derby winner for an illegal brake rotor cap. He felt disadvantaged by a Pro Late Model engine weight break rule mandated over the summer that became a public spat during the Rattler 250 weekend. Nasse and crew believe Brooks was responsible for influencing the race control decision to disqualify him from the 2020 Snowflake 100.
9. Five Star Gen-6 Body Approved
After over six years of infighting between the major Super Late Model sanctioning body promoters and Five Star Bodies, the new Gen-6 style bodies were approved in February. The new shell was introduced over the summer without many complaints about its rollout or any competitive advantage. Many teams are still using their old bodies and are holding until they absolutely need one before making the purchase.
8. Bubba Pollard’s Second Half Slump
Bubba Pollard was putting together a prolific summer driving a Senneker Race Cars chassis until something happened in the middle of the summer. He had seven wins in 14 starts before everything unraveled. Pollard was unable to finish marquee races like the Oxford 250, Dixieland 250, Winchester 400, All-American 400 and Slinger Nationals. As a result, he decided to try something different for the Snowball Derby, entering into a partnership with VanDoorn Racing Development that could extend into 2021. Unfortunately, that didn’t produce results either, Pollard losing two laps and parking before the 100th lap of the biggest race of the year.
7. Bowman Gray, South Boston Silenced
For the first time since 1949, auto racing in the United States was contested without its most prolific short track – Winston Salem, North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions put in place by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Bowman Gray Stadium was forced to cancel its 2020 season, depriving short track racing fans of the entertainment that comes from the quarter-mile track that surrounds a football stadium at Winston Salem State University. Racers, however, had somewhere else to go. On multiple occasions, Franklin County Speedway in Virginia ran events dubbed “Stadium Invasion,” featuring Bowman Gray’s four divisions – Modified, Sportsman, Street Stock, and Stadium Stock. The events were successful. South Boston Speedway in Virginia was also shuttered, altering the course of the NASCAR national championship picture.
6. Teasing a National Super Late Model Tour
It would be the biggest story in modern short track racing history if it were to happen. The promoters from CARS Tour, CRA, Southern Super Series, Midwest Tour and Southwest Tour have discussed on several occasions the framework for a combined national championship that would take races from each regional tour and counting points towards it in those events. Obviously, such a concept would need a big title sponsor and the ultimate expression of teamwork amongst the promoters but they’re largely all-in. The All-American 400 at Nashville was treated like a test for such a concept as it was co-promoted as a non-points event for the CRA, SSS, Midwest Tour and CARS Tour.
5. Martinsville 300 Canceled
As the East Coast struggled to grapple with numerous COVID-19 hot spots, several prestigious Late Model races had to be postponed or cancelled. The most notable cancellation was the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. Track president Clay Campbell was initially determined to hold the race on its scheduled date of Sept. 26 but with cases rapidly increasing in Virginia, combined with several state orders restricting large gatherings, Campbell elected to cancel the race out of an abundance of caution. The 2020 edition was expected to feature the typical crowd of Late Model all-stars such as former winners in Lee Pulliam, Mike Looney, Timothy Peters and defending champion Josh Berry. Super Late Model veterans like Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse had also expressed an interest in filing an entry. While Campbell expressed disappointment in the cancellation of the 2020 ValleyStar Credit Union 300, he is eagerly looking forward to seeing Late Models return at Martinsville for the 2021 running on Sept. 25.
4. Josh Berry’s 2020 Season
The 2020 season for Josh Berry did not start off on a positive note, as he was suspended by the CARS Tour for one race after intentionally wrecking Bobby McCarty at Ace Speedway after an earlier incident between the two. With his bid for a second CARS championship effectively over, Berry elected to shift his focus over to the NASCAR Weekly Series, where he would compete for points at Hickory, Southern National and Dominion Raceway. Berry earned 24 wins across 37 starts, which helped him win his first NASCAR Weekly Series title by 28 points over Sellers. He then returned to the CARS Tour with a win in the Old North State Nationals at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. He accomplishment earned him a seat in the first half of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports.
3. Ty Majeski Wins Snowball Derby
Ty Majeski added to his lengthy resume with a victory in the 53rd Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. It came just weeks after winning the inaugural South Carolina 400 in his Late Model Stock debut. The win came in his seventh attempt at The Super Bowl of Short Track racing and following several heartbreaking defeats. Driving for a team that has direct ties to the legendary Dick Trickle, Majeski has forged his own path with wins that already included the Slinger Nationals, Dixieland 250, Florida Governor’s Cup and Rattler 250. He is a four-time Midwest Tour champion. With the Tom Dawson Trophy, Majeski will now look to expand on his NASCAR career.
2. Myrtle Beach Speedway Demolished
After being approached in February by developers for a potential purchase, Myrtle Beach Speedway owner Bob Lutz made the decision to shutter operations at the conclusion of the 2020 season. The final weekend of on-track action took place from Aug. 14-16, with Sam Yarbrough, Robert Strmiska, Carmen Odum and Carsyn Gillikin being among the facility’s last winners. Demolition of the track began shortly after the conclusion of the final race, with the land eventually expected to be turned into residential housing. Following the final event, the grandstands were torn down and fans pulled the racing surface apart to take as mementos of its storied legacy.
1. The Pandemic
With the short track industry largely returning to race tracks in late May after the two-month COVID-19 shutdown, questions emerged as to how the discipline could continue to exist under the regulations.
Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina was amongst the first tracks that reopened, prohibiting grandstand attendance for several races that included the first CARS Tour event in June, before gradually allowing more fans into the facility as the year progressed. Other tracks elected to forgo extensive safety protocols and welcomed hundreds of fans to their facilities on weekends. It was largely business as usual for the Snowball Derby in December.
Although no spikes in COVID-19 cases were directly linked to short tracks, a lack of masks presented a substantial risk to those who attended races in 2020, and mask mandates are expected to remain a controversial issue as the country gets closer to distributing two separate vaccines.
On the other hand, tracks began to better utilize digital streaming rights and social media during the pandemic. In an era where tracks live or die based largely on the back gate, opening tracks to just competitors, and allowing them to race in front of Pay-Per-View audiences worked for numerous tracks and tours.
The pandemic complicated the short track industry but it appears to have found new ways to survive and thrive and could be better for the experience come the summer of 2021.