Auto Racing

Special spring fling brings racing back to Hawkeye Downs Speedway

Opening event will be closed to public, available on pay-per-view

Monster Enercy NASCAR Cup Series and Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill in Mark Ironside's #10 car exits turn four next
Monster Enercy NASCAR Cup Series and Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill in Mark Ironside’s #10 car exits turn four next to #00 Brody Willett of Alburnett in a 50 lap Late Models feature race at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 16, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette),

CEDAR RAPIDS — Hawkeye Downs Speedway has been still on Friday nights.

The postponement of traditional weekly points races has prevented the familiar sights and sounds that start weekends.

No brightly colored numbered cars, revving engines that reverberate through the grandstand with each pass. No smell of fuel that permeates through the venue, mixing with the normal concessions fare.

Although there won’t be fans in attendance, racing returns to the asphalt oval Saturday. Hawkeye Downs is slated to host its Spring Special. The event is closed to the public, but viewing is available via pay-per-view at Done Right TV, beginning at 11:45 a.m.

“I’m champing at the bit to get back to some normalcy and not just me,” said Mark Ironside, who races in the late model division. “So many other drivers from this area, as well as other states, have been excited about trying to get the racing season underway.”

Hot laps will begin at 10 a.m. The late-model feature qualifying is set for noon and will be the first action televised. Heat races and features for hornets, hobby stocks, legends, sportsmen, sport-mods and late models will follow.

Twenty drivers attended midweek practice, which is a cause for optimism at a track looking to increase the car count.

“They’re itching,” Race Director Scott Unash said. “They’re ready to go. Most of them. Some aren’t as ready as others with the economic problems we’ve had. That’s too bad. We recognize that. It’s going to be different for everybody.”

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Pay-per-view provides fans a chance to satisfy the hunger for live racing. It also gives the track an opportunity to market their event outside the confines of Eastern Iowa.

This also serves an opportunity to showcase upgrades made in the offseason and attract more fans for when weekly races can return.

“It’s about good working relationships with people and that’s what we’re trying to establish,” Unash said. “We’ve done a lot of improvements and that was part of the reasons to have this race to show what we’ve done. Give everybody a glimpse of how we want things to be in the future with new direction.

“Certainly, if we can show that to people on the pay-per-view, that would be great. Hopefully, the word-of-mouth from drivers gos around and that’s how you build things.”

Unash said pay-per-view isn’t like for regular shows, but is something that could happen with the bigger races. More exposure could attract fans and drivers from other areas, including bordering states.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Ironside said. “It might be something we continue to do. People from surrounding areas and other states who can’t make the race can watch. It’s a good opportunity for us to test something like this and bring added value to Hawkeye Downs in the future.”

As for Saturday, plans call for crews to be limited to six or less. The effort attempts to address social distancing recommendations in the pits, but won’t affect many teams.

“For me, I don’t have more than a couple people anyway,” Ironside said. “There are some teams with six or seven people on their crew that they bring every week. They might be limited, but it won’t have that big of an impact.”

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Ironside is eager to return to competition, but is disappointed the stands will be empty. He said fans create the energy and atmosphere. They will be missed before and after the races.

“It adds a lot of value to the race, especially on that prerace lap when you wave to fans as you go by,” Ironside said. “They all stand up, wave back and cheer. That’s really cool. No matter how many times you do it, that is a very special moment. It lets you know you are there for more than yourself.

“At the same time, once that green flag drops and you’re in that seat behind the wheel, you’re focused on what you’re doing. The adrenaline will be the same. You’ll still get that rush and it still will be a ton of fun.”

Slinger (Wis.) Speedway held races open to the public Sunday. Guidelines restricted the venue to 25-percent capacity, which permitted a maximum crowd of 2,500.

Full fan capacity for Hawkeye Downs is 5,000 and a quarter-sized crowd would be 1,250. Ironside would like to see Iowa adopt a similar policy.

“I wish we would be allowed to do like what Wisconsin is doing,” Ironside said. “Just limit it at that. You have a clicker at the gate. The first 1,250 fans have an opportunity to watch and the others will have to do it on the pay-per-view until more and more restrictions are removed.”

Unash said the goal is to start weekly points races again in June. It would allow for about a two-month season. The focus will be to grow participation and provide a fun experience for all.

“We are following all of the COVID-19 guidelines to the best of our ability,” Unash said. “We’re still looking to have weekly racing at some point this year.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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