The sound of engines roaring and the smell of diesel filled the air at the Penticton Speedway on Saturday, their first race of the season.
Drivers and organizers were happy to be back on the track after months of delays due to COVID-19, despite having to turn people away.
“We’re very happy to get racing, of course, and we were really glad that we were able to keep the physical distancing,” said track owner and pit boss, Johnny Aantjes.
The Eat Pasta Drive Fasta event turned out to be more popular than the venue could accommodate.
“It was frustrating to have to send five, six, seven hundred cars full of people back down the hill, and not be able to let them in,” said Aantjes.
Inside the stadium, the speedway was enforcing social distancing measures both in lineups and in the stands. For that reason, they let less people onto the grounds. Some gathered on the hills around the stadium to watch from afar. About 1,500 were gathered in the stands.
This is down from their average of about 4,000 fans who regularly flood to the show.
The racing itself was fast, high-flying and intense. Drivers battled it out for top spot in a series of races, each with a specific class of car and length of race. Many cars lost parts after loosing traction and sliding into the wall, or other racers.
Hornets, Street Stock and Hit-2-Pass events preceded the finale, in which a train of cars plowed through the side of a parked motorhome.
In 75 laps of street stock racing there was but one yellow flag. In 50 laps of hornet racing there were no yellow flags.
The Hornets main event was talked about long after it finished. Trailing in second for the majority of the race, driver Jenn Chipurda was able to pass in a tight corner and hold the lead to the end.
“(It was) great door-to-door racing, number 11 and 23 put on a really good show,” said Aantjes.
In the end, Jenn Chirpurda took first in the Hornets main event, Rick Digby took top spot in the Hit-2-Pass event, and Jeremy Smith topped the charts in the Street Stocks category.
Looking forward to their next show on July 18 and 19, Aantjes said he hopes the current restrictions will be eased prior to this.
The owner expressed frustration at the government’s current strategy, but said they are following the rules as much as they can.
“Hopefully things will continue to be easing on the restrictions, and we can carry on… It was a good night, and we look forward to doing it again in two weeks.
“I just want to try to implore the government to keep moving those restrictions in the right direction, so we can all get back to work.”
The Penticton Toyota event on July 18 and 19 will feature Hit-2-Pass races, a destruction event, and possibly monster trucks.
The presence of monster trucks depends on how many tickets the Speedway will be allowed to sell. Aantjes explained the current restrictions will need to ease slightly for them to be able to do this.
“It’ll be great, but we need the crowd to be able to pay for the show,” said Aantjes.
For more info, event schedule and results visit Pentictonspeedway.com.