Grand Reopening: Stafford Speedway Very Carefully Brings Fan Inclusive Sports Back To Connecticut

Stafford Motor Speedway competitors all donned masks for their first driver’s meeting of the season Friday (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

STAFFORD – For decades the Arute family at Stafford Speedway has helped set the bar for impressiveness and innovation when it comes to short track racing facilities across the country. 

It’s fair to say, when it comes to motorsports, Stafford Speedway has a reputation across the short track industry as one of the standard bearers for how to do things right. 

On Friday it was Stafford Speedway showing the way for the state of Connecticut on how to do sports facility reopening the right way in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

Stafford Speedway became the first major professional sporting facility in the state to reopen with fans since COVID-19 regulations and restrictions went into place in mid-March. 

Stafford Motor Speedway welcomed 2,500 fans – a 25 percent capacity – to their first event of the season Friday. They also had a little more than 120 cars in the pits for the five division racing card. 

The first Friday night event came about 10 weeks later than their originally scheduled opening weekend in late April thanks to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. 

Stafford reopened with strict guidelines in place for both fans and competitors. 

Drivers all decked in masks met with Stafford Speedway Director of Racing Operations Tom Fox for their traditional driver’s meeting before heat racing began.

Fox implored drivers to make sure that everyone on their teams focus on wearing masks and avoiding group gatherings in the pits. Fox tried to impress upon drivers that if state officials don’t like what they see at the track, things could get shut down as quickly as they got opened up. 

Drivers and crew members in the pits were all mandated to wear masks whenever they are outside of their designated pit area. 

“I think every single person here understands that and knows that,” Fox said. “They’re going to walk out of a trailer without a mask on and I’m going to walk out of the tech center without a mask on. I need everybody else to be the cop. When they get three feet away they need to be told not to. I’m just trying to bring a general awareness to everything. I think everybody here wants to be here and I think they’re going to do their best.” 

Fearn Motorsports owner Stu Fearn said he emphasized with all his crew members the importance of sticking to the rules in place. 

“You just have to be smart about it,” Fearn said. “We want to race every week from now on. We want to be uninterrupted and have no problems. I tell my guys, ‘You don’t have to wear a mask [in our pit stall] or in the shop. We’re all healthy and we stay away if we’re not. At the track, anytime you leave the pit area, just wear your mask.’ I know it’s hot. Guess what, everyone has to wear their masks. It’s not the end of the world. You just have to be smart. Everyone in the country has to do that. Don’t be a bozo and be that guy that’s going to ruin it for everyone. That’s what everyone in the country has to do. Just because you don’t feel like it is not good enough a reason to endanger everyone else, because that’s what you’re doing.” 

Said SK Modified division driver Tony Membrino Jr.: “You look anywhere you see people that are taking things super seriously, semi-seriously and some are a little lackadaisical. You look anywhere in the country and that’s what you find. Me personally, I’m taking it seriously because I want to race. I think everybody here is in agreement that we want to come back here and race. We’re anxious and we’re excited. I just hope everything goes well and goes seamlessly and according to the plan.”

Fans were welcomed into the grandstand area and greeted with signs emphasizing the wearing of masks, social distancing and avoiding group gatherings. Newly installed sanitizing stations were up all over the facility along with signage and ground markings designated spacing in line areas. Track employees could be seen all over the facility continuously cleaning common surface areas.  

Fans were allowed to remove masks while sitting in the grandstands, but Stafford designated a section of the grandstands for fans who did not want to remove their masks while seated. 

“It was a long wait, a long winter,” Membrino said. “I know everybody is stoked to be back here. … I wouldn’t expect anything less from Stafford. There’s a reason why they have the notoriety they do and the fame they do. It’s a top-notch facility and to have that type of reputation you have to do things a certain way. And it doesn’t start or finish on the race track, it’s what they do off the track as well.” 

Stafford management had worked with state officials since April in creating reopening plans. Stafford is the only one of three short tracks in state in operation. 

“They’re the only one’s that got it done,” Fearn said. “They get all the credit. … They did all the work, they deserve all the credit. Any race fan out there that is enjoying racing in Connecticut this summer, they should probably thank Stafford Motor Speedway and the Arute’s.” 

Comments

  1. The Arute’s are a class act!

  2. It’s a nicely weird new experience. Shawn’s written a story about the event not too far off real time, we can read it a little after that and understand what he’s saying as we view the race that is in progress. The Streets are pounding away, live timing is pumping out lap data and the streaming presentation by Stafford for the first night couldn’t be better. No engine sounds when the show opened, folks mentioned it on Facebook and suddenly that situation gets fixed. Hope it works out. This is pretty terrific.
    After the chaos at other tracks seeing the attention to detail and discipline is just amazing. Ben pounded away relentlessly at the start so there was no confusion about what was expected. They needed to set a good example and have wrestled the independent minded fans and competitors into going along for the most part from what I can see and what this article states.
    Williams, Rocco, Owen and Dowling are razor close in lap times so the SK feature should be a barn burner. 126 cars. Amazing.

  3. Hail to Stafford for many, many reasons. But, starting features at 8:30 is tough. Is there a particular reason that the SKs + SKLs didn’t each run just one consi? An earlier start for heats would help, too. But, I suppose we’re fortunate to have any racing at all in 2020 …

  4. Dan Butler says

    Dear Arute family, Tom Fox, Scott Running and ALL the staff responsible for getting to gates open for us all last night….THANK YOU!!!! IT was a little bit of “normalcy” during these crazy times.

  5. Sharpie Fan says

    Thank you SMS, the Arute family, Tom Fox, Scott Tapley, Julie Windsor, Kim Brooks, and the rest of the staff and employees for your patience and hard work. It was a hot night of hot racing. It’s great to be back!

    As to having just one consi, there were 36 SKLs vying for 27 starting spots. 16 qualified via the heats, whose line-ups were set by a draw because it was the first race of the year so there was no handicapping. This left a field of 20 cars to qualify for 8 starting positions through the consi(s) plus 3 provisionals. If they had combined into one consi there would probably have been a lot more cautions and wrecked racecars than if they divide it into 2 groups. It gives the better cars who may have had to start at the back a better chance to qualify. It is easier if you are starting 10th and have to pass 6 cars to qualify than to start 20th and have to pass 12 cars to qualify.

  6. The only thing I noticed that could have been better and it was not the tracks fault as it seemed they put a lot of thought and effort into doing the right thing , most people walking around with face masks but once they sat in pit stands which were crowded would immediately remove the mask , just hope everything goes well and everyone there stays healthy and is back next week

  7. The track clearly stated it was ok to take the mask off in the grandstands as long as social distancing was being practiced. The one exception was the mandatory mask section. Since it was allowed, fans took them off. Just like we have seen at most other tracks.

  8. The pit stands ended up being a flawed part of the effort. You could see it in the streaming coverage. I would think if it happens at other tracks from what we’ve seen that’s probably the best reason to avoid doing it the same way. Nothing about Friday was like anything we’ve seen so far at other tracks with fans and that’s exactly why it was so impressive.
    Look for the pit stands to be targeted as an area for improvement this Friday.
    A lot of people have said a lot of nice things about all the work Stafford did to get where it has. Even if you don’t believe any of the experts about masks and distance or somehow think you’re an exception how about this? Just show a little gratitude by simply following their rules. It’s not like you were asked to donate a kidney.

  9. JD we are talking about pit stands they were packed, no way you could be 6 ‘ away

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