A Pennsylvania dirt track that says it’s already been cited twice for flouting Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown was expected to draw hundreds or even thousands of people to its first auto races of the season this weekend.
Penn Can Speedway in rural Susquehanna County planned to hold races on its dirt oval a few miles from the New York state line. General Manager JoAnne Mady said Friday she expects the largest crowd in Penn Can’s 65-year history, with race teams making the trip from as far away as Florida. The track’s newly expanded bleachers can hold about 2,000 people.
Susquehanna County has reported only seven new virus infections in the last 14 days but remains subject to a variety of pandemic restrictions, including a shutdown of entertainment venues and a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people. Local police have twice cited the track as it hosted practice in recent days, said track promoter Gary Folk Jr.
He said he worried about the citations but “I was also worried about not having a business.”
Folk and his father — whose history with the track goes back more than 50 years — took over the lease last October and spent tens of thousands of dollars on improvements. Folk said the business would fold without the immediate resumption of racing.
“I don’t want to be in trouble, I don’t want to see anyone sick, I don’t want to see any of that stuff. But we had the opportunity to do something really cool here, and if we didn’t get to it, we were dying on the vine,” he said.
Messages were left Friday with Susquehanna police as well as the district attorney. A Pennsylvania State Police spokesman deferred to local police but said: “PSP stands ready to assist, if requested by local law enforcement, to ensure public safety.”
Public health officials have consistently warned against such large gatherings, citing the risk of viral spread. Wolf himself has denounced businesses that ignore his restrictions, threatening revocation of permits and other governmental approvals.
But the governor said this week that he has been in touch with NASCAR and other major professional sports organizations, and that Pennsylvania is working on guidelines to allow sporting events, exhibitions and leagues, both professional and amateur, to get back to “some semblance of normalcy.”
The track says it has installed sneeze guards at ticket windows, concessions and other areas, will require fans to wear masks when they enter and will keep them apart in the stands, and is taking other precautions. Rain was in the forecast and depending on the weather, the races were expected to go off Friday night or later in the weekend.
“People are ready to go racing,” Folk said.