New York Tracks – Good To Race…. Without Spectators

This article appears in this week’s Area Auto Racing News by Len Sammons.

– Are Speedways In New York State “Race Tracks” Or Entertainment Facilities-
Has N.Y. Governor Cuomo Given Permission To Race Cars Or Just Horses?

Today on Tuesday, June 2 after the paper had been published, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, clarified this very question with Executive Order 202.32.

The directive contained in Executive Order 202.32 allowing any licensee or franchisee of a racetrack to operate such racetrack is hereby modified and extended until July 2, 2020, to allow any operator of an auto racetrack to operate beginning June 3, 2020, pursuant to Department of Health guidance for such operation, and provided such auto racetrack allows only essential personnel or participants to be on site, and does not permit any visitor or spectator into the facility or on premise.

This order opens the door for all race tracks in the State of New York to open their gates to competitors, but not spectators. The lone exception appears to be Orange County Fair Speedway, who will open this Saturday, June 6, with spectators allowed in the track’s Drive-In Area on the backstretch.

Here is the story from this week’s June 2, 2020, Area Auto Racing News.

When Howie Commander read a directive on May 21 from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, he felt relieved. It appeared the veteran promoter was permitted, by Cuomo’s statement, to open the gates of the Lebanon Valley, Albany-Saratoga and Airborne Park speedways he operates as long as no fans were on the grounds.
Commander immediately began to schedule multiple days of practice sessions for his dirt speedways, and the drag strip at Lebanon Valley. Other tracks within the state followed suit, scheduling practice or racing events with the loss of fan admission tickets hopefully being subsidized by enlarged pit admissions and pay-per-view TV revenue.
Short track auto racing in New York State appeared to be back in business until a possible discrepancy appeared. On Wednesday, May 27, Public Health Emergency Guidelines for “Racing Activities” from the New York State of Health were released that included one major clarification.
“For the purpose of this guidance, ‘racing activities’ means all activities undertaken in preparation for and the conduct of ‘horse racing’ upon which pari-mutual wagering is offered at a licensed or franchise racetrack.” In Cuomo’s announcement, and in an Executive Order released earlier, horse racing was not specified, only ‘racing activities’.
This leaves speedway operators in the dark again. Can they go by the Executive Order and open after June 1 without fans? Are guidelines for car racing from the Board Of Health to be announced shortly?
This saga began at a press conference when Cuomo brought up the return of horse racing and car racing at Watkins Glen International Speedway because they could afford, with gaming or television revenues, to operate without fan attendance.
Cuomo followed up his statement that day on his website, and later in a signed “Executive Order,” only mentioned “racetracks,” not specifically saying horses or cars.
“Any licensee or franchisee of a racetrack in the State is hereby permitted to operate such racetrack as of June 1, 2020, provided such racetrack does not permit any visitor or fan into the facility, and allows on site only essential personnel; and provided further that such licensee or franchisee of a racetrack, and all essential personnel adhere to any directive or guidance issued by the Department of Health and/or by the Gaming Commission.”
All appeared to be good for motorsports until the Department of Health released the guidelines for “racing activities” on Wednesday specifically for horse racing.
The national business code for RaceTracks is 711212. If you search the New York website for business guidance on RaceTracks it lists horse racing and refers to the safety guidelines recently released. However, if you research top annual sales under the national code for RaceTracks, it lists International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports as top businesses, both from auto racing not horses!
It appears as if auto racing might not be considered a “racing activity” by New York State code, but rather “entertainment” (711310) which is currently not permitted to be held. This would group auto racing with other Sports, Fairs, Concerts and Performing Arts.
Cuomo further clouded the issue with a comment made at a Friday May 29 press conference.
“If you can have economic activity without a crowd, that’s great. We can do that in this state with horse racing tracks, and we’re going to do that,” said Cuomo.
“There will be guidelines for the actual participants, but no crowds, no fans. But for the industry itself, for the televised viewers, that can still work. That is also true with Watkins Glen, that can operate and there’s a big viewership for Watkins Glen.”
Once again Cuomo brought up auto racing, but fell short of giving information or mentioning short track speedways. While local short track racing doesn’t have a well-paying national television contract like NASCAR, funds to subsidize ticket purchase can be achieved by on-line pay-per-view services.
On Friday, Commander told AARN he still plans to hold his scheduled practices which begin on Monday. An opener without fans in attendance is also being considered.
“It said racetracks when we got that from the governor’s office. It got everyone stirred up and a lot of race tracks are going to open,” said Commander.
“I have to go on with my practice. All my racers are counting on it. I’ve printed up the governor’s announcement on 4 x 4 sheets that says we can do it without fans and I’m posting it on gates. If the police come I’m going to show them the sign. If we’re not right, it just wasn’t clear.”
Other New York State tracks such as Land of Legends (Canandaigua), Outlaw (Dundee), Utica-Rome (Vernon), Can-Am (Larfargeville) and Woodhull have also scheduled events beginning after the June 1 start date listed in Cuomo’s executive order.
While several speedways have begun operation in Pennsylvania without authorization and no penalty, Cuomo plans to put his foot down. They did, however, say the same in Pa.
“It’s not up to you when you open,” Cuomo said during a press conference onMay 29.
“You have to follow the law or you will be closed.”
Commander told AARN on Friday he had not gotten a call not to hold his event from the nearby state capital in Albany and he has gotten support from local representatives to continue following proper guidelines.
Cuomo also gave approval for the start of “Phase Two” in Central New York and four other regions during his briefing.
Ironically, in New Jersey over the weekend its governor Phil Murphy announced the return of horse racing while auto racing in that state remains on hold.