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Thanksgiving Classic Canceled Amid Worsening Pandemic

Short tracks in North Carolina are caught in the crosshairs of the coronavirus pandemic and a high-stakes election

Andy Marquis/STS

Southern National Motorsports Park has pulled the plug on the 2020 running of its season highlight, the Thanksgiving Classic, as a result of restrictions in place by the State of North Carolina to combat the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The track announced the decision on Thursday, citing the inability to make the numbers work with limits on fan attendance.

“With the situation, we are in with COVID-19 and North Carolina restrictions, we are unable to make the numbers work,” the post read.  “We would like to thank the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for working with us all year so we could race, and all the drivers and fans that came out to support us.”

North Carolina currently restricts attendance to 100 people where venues seat less than 10,000.  Southern National Motorsports Park has raced throughout the last half of 2020 with grandstands closed to the public and only allowing trackside parking and pit passes within the guidelines set by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

However, the Thanksgiving Classic typically features 12-13 classes with larger than normal payouts, including one of the richest payouts in Late Model Stock Car racing, and track owner Michael Diaz said there’s no way to make it work financially or logistically with the current restrictions in place.  Furthermore, Diaz says, if he were to run the race, he would want to keep it intact as it has traditionally been run in the past.

“There’s 13 classes that run,” Diaz said.  “I usually have 13 classes that run the Classic.  There’s absolutely no way to make all of those.  I don’t want to change the structure of the classic just to have the classic, then I’d have to make changes for it to make sense. Then it’s not the classic, it’s just another race.  The Classic is the Classic.  That’s what it needs to be.  I don’t want to have to leave anyone out, that’s all part of the Thanksgiving Classic is to have all the people there and the fans there and run all the races.  Without opening up the grandstands.  Yes, trackside will be trackside, but, with no grandstands and suites, it’s just not the Classic.”

The cancelation of the Thanksgiving Classic means all three of Late Model Stock Car racing’s traditional year-end races have been canceled in 2020.  The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, which was supposed to be held in late September, was canceled due to similar restrictions from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, while the Myrtle Beach 400 was canceled as a result of the closure and demolition of Myrtle Beach Speedway.

It also marks the second consecutive year the Thanksgiving Classic has not been run on Thanksgiving weekend.  Last year, the race was moved up a day due to rain, but the rain came sooner than expected, forcing Diaz to postpone the race until March 2020.  When the race was eventually run in March, billed as the Solid Rock Carriers Classic, Bobby McCarty became the 16th different winner of the event.

The Nexus of Politics and Racing

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the country and a historically important election is already in progress, uncertainty continues to grow about the months ahead.  In North Carolina, the election will paint a somewhat clearer picture of the months ahead.

Dan Forest, the Republican challenging incumbent Governor Roy Cooper in the state’s gubernatorial election, wants to reopen the state with no restrictions and wants to end the state’s mask mandate.  Forest has gained support, especially within the racing community, for his ultra-conservative stance, however, he trails Cooper in most state polls by more than 10 points.

Even if Forest were to win, he would not be inaugurated until the start of the new year, and with North Carolina’s positivity rate continuing to increase, there could be a new wave of shutdowns before then – and even into 2021 if Cooper is re-elected, as is expected to be the case.

“I don’t know if the election’s going to clear things up, but I doubt it,” Diaz said.  “I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Despite that, other North Carolina racetracks have their eyes on racing.

Next Saturday, Ace Speedway will host the $10,000-to-win Rodney Cook Classic with limited attendance.  Carteret County Speedway will host its Autumn Nationals event with the grandstands being closed.  Carteret has previously announced its intentions to host a big Late Model Stock Car race on December 12th.

Already, some tracks and series have started planning for 2021.  Langley Speedway, in Virginia, which also has COVID restrictions in effect, has already released its 2021 schedule.  Other tracks, however, have focused on just trying to get through 2020 and are waiting to see how the next few weeks, which will be a critical time in American history and a critical time in this second wave of one of the worst global health pandemics in history, will play out.

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Marquis comes from St. Charles, Maryland and has a widespread background in journalism, having covered politics in Washington and Maryland as well as nearly every form of auto racing, including NASCAR, IndyCar, AMA Motocross and IHRA Drag Racing. Now living near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Marquis covers Late Model Stock Cars and Super Late Models in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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