×

RED FLAG WAVING

Staley taking a wait and see approach as COVID-19 keeps Hamilton County Speedway quiet

The Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City is quiet prior to the start of the 2018 season. The historic half-mile dirt track could possibly have a late start to the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but track promoter Todd Staley is hopeful that the grandstand and infield will both be packed with fans and drivers sooner rather than later. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Todd Staley has been around race tracks his entire life and he’s spent more than two decades promoting races all across the country.

He’s dealt with rain, floods, below average track conditions; basically, you name it and he’s had to tackle it.

But this most recent hiccup to the racing landscape has thrown him and the entire sport for a loop.

As the president and promoter of the United States Modified Touring Series, as well as the promoter at the Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City, Staley admits that the current COVID-19 pandemic has got him worried.

For himself. For his staff. For his local track. For his entire sport.

The grandstand at the Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City. Track promoter Todd Staley doesn’t envision a scenario during the 2020 season where there would be racing without fans in the stands due to COVID-19. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

“This stuff is crazy and I can’t even believe it,” Staley said. “We just don’t know anything right now. My No. 1 goal is that we get a race and we get this over with fast.”

Staley took over promotions at the Hamilton County Speedway in 2018. Brad and Sarah Ratcliff have served as the track general managers in charge of weekly operations, and the partnership has been a boon for the historic half-mile over the past two seasons.

The 2020 season was scheduled to begin this Saturday, but that Frostbuster event has been canceled. Next on the docket is the season opener for the USMTS modifieds and Malvern Bank super late models on Saturday, April 18, but Staley fears that race is in jeopardy as well.

So when will the Hamilton County Speedway officially be open for business? Your guess is as good as his.

“I’m hoping we get to race because that first race (on April 18) is a big special, and then another late model series is coming in, but my guess is it’s probably going to be in May,” Staley said.

“It’s really, really strange to me. I’ve talked to people that have been living for 70 or 80 years and they’ve never seen anything like this ever.”

Pushing the season back would be difficult enough financially, both for the Staley family and for the speedway. The thought of the entire season potentially being wiped out is simply too daunting to imagine.

“My whole business and my seven employees, we all rely on racing to happen,” Staley said. “My whole business is entirely revolved around racing, and if we can’t do it … it’s very, very scary.”

Staley says it’s highly unlikely that the speedway would open up for races without fans being allowed to attend. The patrons that pack the grandstand each and every Saturday night, as well as for various weekly specials throughout the summer months, are the speedway’s lifeblood.

“You’ve got to have people there to watch to pay the bills and I think every racetrack probably feels the same way,” Staley said. “The thing that probably scares me the most is that people get in this ritual of not doing anything and when things finally open up, they’re going to keep that ritual going because they’re scared of everything that’s going to happen.

“I really hope they come out. The nice thing about it is it’s fun entertainment where you get to go and hang out with your friends and just have a good time. We’re an entertainment business.”

For now Staley says he’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and make the appropriate scheduling changes as necessary. He still hopes to have a full racing schedule on deck for area fans. And although the speedway is not currently in race shape, he says it would take only a week to round the surface into form.

“As soon as they give us the OK to go we’ll probably start to have some practices, probably just not in big groups,” Staley said. “I’d love to get in 15 to 20 nights of racing. I want to give the drivers the chance to get their races in.”

Staley and his wife, Janet, bought the United States Modified Series (USMS) in 1999, which became the USMTS in 1999. Since that time, they’ve promoted races at 181 venues in 19 states with more than 4,600 drivers cashing in for close to $20 million in prize money, according to the company’s website.

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)