HIBBING — Hibbing Raceway President Mike Olson didn’t see much of anything Saturday night at the Hibbing Raceway, but he knows one thing — the opening of the WISSOTA dirt track circuit was a resounding success.
The track had been closed since March because of COVID-19, but last Wednesday, the Hibbing City Council voted unanimously to reopen the track, and the turnout was more than Olson expected.
His biggest fear, not racing at all, never came to fruition.
“I didn’t want it to be the end of it here in Hibbing because if something dies off, it’s hard to get it back,” Olson said. “What motivated people was the practice night we had a few weeks ago.
“That got the blood going. We had a few cars from out-of-town, even some Late Models from Iowa. We had a good night. The crowd enjoyed it.”
Looking back on it, Wilson knew closing the track was the right thing to do.
“We knew it was going to cause havoc for everybody,” Olson said. “COVID is a serious thing, so we had to abide by what the government tells you to do. We had to keep everybody safe.
“I felt being outside was better than being in a building, but it’s better to follow the guidelines. We did everything the state said. We dotted the i’s and crossed all of the t’s. The city council followed the guidelines, and there you are.”
The grandstand at the raceway has a capacity of 3,200. It wasn’t full that night, but a lot of racing fans turned out to see the first action of the season.
“We had a heck of a good crowd,” Olson said. “It didn’t look like it because they were spread so far out, but we had to sell tickets according to the three sections of the grandstand.
“The center sold out right away. Everybody wanted to be out of the sun. We could only have 250 per section, and that’s what we did. We also had quite a few folks in the dogpound.”
The first night almost went off without incident, but during hot laps, Mark Heinle of Grand Rapids had his throttle stick in corner one. He hit a tire barrier, then rolled.
“We’ve been in touch with him, and he’s OK,” Olson said. “He’s sore, but other than that, we had a good night of racing.”
The raceway displayed their new concession stands, which are being run by Leslie Provencher.
“They have been redone,” Olson said. “She’s doing an outstanding job. We almost ran out of food. I didn’t think that would happen because of the heat, but they cleaned it up pretty good.
“We’ve had a lot of upgrades. We reorganized and changed the menu back to race-track food. There’s another window open for the kids. It keeps them out of the other line, and makes the flow go better.”
The other change at the track involves beer sales. The raceway will no longer be selling 3.2 beer. That beer was sold Saturday, but that was due to a paperwork issue at the state level.
When racing action returns on Saturday, July 11, the track should be selling regular beer, wine coolers and seltzer beers. There will be no hard liquor.
“It’s so hard to get now,” Olson said. “Minnesota and Utah were the only two states in the country to sell it last year. We’re the last state to have 3.2 beer, so the breweries had to make it specially for us.”
Olson was so busy Saturday that he didn’t get a chance to see any of the action.
“I didn’t see one race,” he said. “I was underneath the grandstand, and the radio and phone never stopped ringing. We had new people, and we were breaking them in. We have a lot of people in the right positions.
“We have a new treasurer (Wendy McComb), who has degrees in accounting and management. She’s very competent.”
According to Olson, there’s only eight shows left until the Labor Day Shootout.
He’s thankful for all of the sponsors that have stuck with the track through thick and thin of this pandemic.
“The track survives on sponsorships,” Olson said. “I’ve been slow to go out and ask businesses for money when they haven’t been open for two months. The ones I have asked are the businesses that haven’t been affected by this. We still put all of their signs up because that’s good business.
“The folks that are paying full price this year, we will prorate them next year. We’ll give them a break. The same thing goes for the people who have reserved seats in the grandstand and dogpound. We’re helping out as much as we can in the event they’re back to help us out next year.”
Suffice it to say that the shows must go on, barring inclement weather.
“We lost two months worth of racing, so if we’re not in a downpour, we’re racing,” Olson said. “I hope everybody has a good Fourth of July.”