HIBBING — Gentlemen, start your engines.
That’s a familiar phrase heard at the Indianapolis 500 every year, but it’s ringing more true today than ever.
Since the coronavirus shutdown in March, everything was put on hold, including the Hibbing Raceway.
Drivers were chomping at the bit to get their cars on the track, and they had to travel to Wisconsin to get their driving fix.
On Saturday, the long wait to race in Hibbing is over.
The Hibbing City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reopen the track, so the raceway will hold its first feature event of the season, beginning at 6:30 p.m., Saturday.
It’s been a long time in coming, but the wait is finally over.
“It was definitely missed,” said Hornet driver Richard Helms, who is entering his second year on the WISSOA circuit. “I tried to stay busy with as much as I could during the winter.
“Watching other states race is all I could do.”
Helms had been keeping his eye on the proceedings leading up to the reopening of the track.
“I had heard about it, and I was watching it close,” he said. “I’m excited to have racing closer to home. Financially, it’s definitely good news all of the way around. That’s the one night I’m guaranteed to race. I’m happy about that. It’s my favorite track.”
According to Mark Trenberth, the raceway will have to follow certain guidelines upon reopening.
The stands have to be split into three separated areas, with a maximum of 250 people in each area, and 150 people max in the dog-pound area.
Social distancing will be observed, so people in lines will have to stand six-feet apart.
Hand-sanitizer stations will be available. Hands should be sanitized upon entry into the stands.
Masks are recommended, but not required for fans. The track workers, who deal with the public, will be wearing masks.
The raceway is requesting exact change for ticket purchases. The cost of the tickets will be $13 for everyone, with children five and under admitted free (that is COVID-19 pricing. Regular pricing will take effect when there’s no restrictions on grandstand capacity).
Helms is one of those drivers that traveled to Superior and Ashland to get in some action.
“If we haven’t been driving, we’ve been helping people out in the pits, learning a little bit,” Helms said. “We’re learning how to set up the cars and preparing the car for each race.
“We’re learning the tracks, and how we need to change everything.”
Last year, Helms had a lot of ups-and-downs.
“It was a learning year,” he said. “I had nights where I could have won, but I ran out of gas. I had other nights where the car didn’t even make it out to the track. There were a few heartbreaking ones.
“One time, my throttle cable fell off midway through a race. We learned a lot last year, This year, hopefully, we can improve. We’ve been spending time working on the car to iron out the bugs from last year. Mentally, it’s being prepared for a busy season.”
It’ll be busy in more ways than one.
Helms will start the season in his Hornet, but he will probably end the season in a Super Stock.
Helms bought a Super-Stock chassis earlier this year, and he’s hoping to have it ready some time in the near future.
“We’ve been slowly, piece-by-piece, putting that together,” Helms said. “It’s taken a lot more time than I expected. Making sure you have the right parts is important. It’s been easier in some aspects than I thought, but at the same time, it’s been more difficult.”
Helms said he’s in the process of picking up an engine and putting the body on the car.
“We’re definitely close,” he said. “As soon as the Super Stock starts up, we’ll sell the Hornet and call it a day. I’m excited to be as far as we are on it.”
Of course, the learning process on the car and track will begin anew.
“It’s going to be a change of pace going from 60 to 90 mph,” Helms said. “I’ll start in the back, keep my nose clean and let everybody do their racing. It’ll be another year of learning.
“Hopefully, we can stay in this class for awhile, so we don’t have to change next year.”