Auto Racing

Rain throws Hawkeye Downs another curveball, but delayed Spring Special still conducted

CEDAR RAPIDS — It rained Saturday morning and afternoon, which pushed back Hawkeye Downs’ Spring Special at least four hours. Go figure.

“The irony there is not lost on us,” first-year Hawkeye Downs race director Scott Unash said.

Nor on anyone else. The coronavirus has stopped sports in its tracks, no pun intended, and the first live sporting event in town since mid-March just couldn’t possibly go off without a bit of a hitch, apparently.

They hoped to get a 4:30 p.m. racing start for the Spring Special, which was to be performed before no fans.

“Everybody is charged up about getting the season going,” Unash said. “That’s why we’ve got a lot of out-of-state drivers here, as well as most of our local drivers. They’re just ready to go because nobody has been racing, yet.”

Unash said he anticipated drivers coming in from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Races were to be conducted in Hornets, Hobby Stock, Legends, Sportsman and Sports Mod divisions.

Fans could watch online via pay per view.

“We’re hoping to have as many cars here as we would for a weekly race (card), which would be about 65,” Unash said. “If not a few more.”

Unash said safety was the Downs’ most important consideration here.

Pit crews were limited to six members. Racers and pit-crew members were not required to wear masks, though Hawkeye Downs staff was going to wear them.

“We have hand-washing stations,” Unash said. “We are pitting every other pit to keep more distance between the haulers.”

Hawkeye Downs originally was scheduled to begin its annual racing program in early May. The weekly season series is slated to end August 31, with Outlaw Street Drags and Enduro races scheduled for the fall.

But, first things first, and that was the Spring Special. Just getting it off was a major victory.

“We wanted to do it, actually, last weekend, but that wasn’t going to happen,” Unash said. “So when the governor opened things up a little bit more this week, we were all ready, had everything together. We just kept what (plans) we had and went from there. Revised things a little bit and made them better.”

Hawkeye Downs officially was purchased in late January by CellSite Solutions of Cedar Rapids for $2.6 million. A popular local sports radio personality, Unash took over as the track’s race director last month.

He said the obvious hope is the state will continue to open things up, which would eventually allow fans to return and watch races in person. That hope also is it will happen sooner than later.

Unash said the track knows even when fans return, things will be different. Certainly there will be limits on capacity overall.

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There’s no question social-distancing measures will be put into place, which means spacing fans out in the stands.

“But even if it’s a quarter of capacity, that’s going to be fine with us most nights because we have such a big place,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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