Officials from Elko Speedway watched the events in Minneapolis, and soon around the country and world, unfold following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder.
They then observed countless organizations and companies release statements in the aftermath decrying racism in all forms. Then, Elko Speedway Owner Tom Ryan decided he wanted to make a statement of his own to coincide with the restart of his business.
When Ryan opens up Elko Speedway for the first time this summer on the Fourth of July, he will do so with an event called “Racing Against Racism.”
“So many companies have put out statements about the recent tragedies, and we decided that instead of a statement let’s have some action,” Elko Speedway Spokesman Rob Hahn said. “In a small way, Elko Speedway through Racing Against Racism is attempting to broaden the discussion on race and other matters facing our state and our country right now.”
While the details of the event are still to be finalized, Hahn said there will likely be an on-track pre-race presentation with a few speakers talking about how society can progress from this point, in addition to a handful of audio and video interviews before the day of the event.
“Those will be highlighting a small portion of what we can do as a track to acknowledge these are tough times, and that sometimes you need more than words,” Hahn said. “You need some action.”
A press release announcing the event cited the words and actions of Bubba Wallace, the only black full-time driver at NASCAR’s top level, and spurred the organization to ban Confederate flags at its events and emblazoned his car with #blacklivesmatters stickers.
“We respect NASCAR’s decision (to ban Confederate flags) and Bubba Wallace provides an impetus for some much-needed discussion,” Hahn said.
The announcement of the event comes as racetracks across Minnesota continue to follow capacity restrictions due to executive orders from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to contain the spread of COVID-19. Walz has since allowed dining indoors and outdoors, and reopened gyms and fitness centers at limited capacities.
By the time the Fourth of July arrives, Hahn and Ryan believe they’ll be approved by the state to hold the event without attendance limitations at Elko Speedway, which can seat about 6,000 fans.
“When restaurants can open at 50% capacity for indoor seating, it’s only fitting that a large venue like Elko Speedway should open,” Ryan said in the press release. “Some elected officials like to reference science. I like to look at science and math. We have a seating capacity for 6,000 spectators, and we’re an outdoor venue. We can easily accommodate and manage a large crowd with proper social distancing.”
“We’re looking at abiding by the spirit of the executive orders,” Hahn added. “We anticipate they might change and be relaxed a little by July 4. At least half capacity is what we’re hoping for, but things could change.”
While this will be the Speedway’s first racing event of the year, the venue’s drive-in movie theater has been open to the public for the last few weeks.
Hahn says this means Elko Speedway’s staff is already trained and practiced in the new safety measures required to stage a public event, and while racing brings its own set of safety and cleanliness standards, he says the group will be prepared by race day.
While this wasn’t how they planned starting the 2020 racing season, Hahn said events transpired to create a unique, memorable and meaningful start to the season.
“Tom said it best (Monday) morning,” Hahn recalled. “He did an interview on a radio station in the Twin Cities. He said, ‘It’s been a challenging year in the first half of 2020. We really see this as something people can put on their calendar, circle the date and have something positive to look forward to.’ It’s family entertainment, it’s NASCAR racing with fireworks after the race because it’s the Fourth of July, and it will continue the tradition of Fourth of July events at the track. It has new meaning this year.”