Season opener at Dacotah Speedway set for June 5
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Season opener at Dacotah Speedway set for June 5

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Drew Papke (60) of Bismarck and Donavin Wiest (19) race in an INEX Legends feature race last season at Dacotah Speedway in Mandan.

Dacotah Speedway in Mandan announced on Wednesday that it was moving from a red flag to a yellow with hopes that the green flag will drop on its 30th season on June 5.

“All the racers are itching to go,” track president Jeremy Keller said. “There’s just a lot of things we have to change and we’re making sure we do what we have to do to be safe.”

Keller emphasized that the June 5 date is set, barring any surges in COVID-19 cases that would cause the state to pull back on smart restart regulations.

Under the current level, the crowd size is capped at 250, even though the grandstands at the speedway seat 3,000.

“We’re hoping to be in the next stage by June 5 so we can move up to 500,” Keller said. “We just needed to get a date out there. It’s a big deal for us, but things can change in a hurry.”

Former Mandan Parks Director and auto racer John Gartner Sr. played a key role in the opening of Dacotah Speedway in Mandan 30 years ago and he played a key role in reopening the track this year.

Gartner, whose role these days is a race fan and pit crew for his sons, worked with several tracks in the state to formulate and present to Gov. Doug Burgum’s staff the reopening plans to allow tracks to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew right away that the tracks in North Dakota are primarily club run with a volunteer board of directors,” Gartner said. “There are 11 tracks and most were at a loss on what to do right away. I knew that was going to happen.”

As manager for the Dakota Classic Modified Tour since its inception the year Dacotah Speedway opened, Gartner called upon his experience dealing with government rules and regulations.

“It became clear they needed a plan for reopening,” Gartner said. “I’ve seen many plans through contacts with the Tour and found one plan from the US Motorsports Association that fit our needs. One of the things (the state) want to know was what we’re doing to keep people safe. The governor wanted to make sure we had a guideline.”

With a plan in place, all that’s left now is to get to opening day. That will benefit more than just fans and drivers.

“The thing is, I have two sons who race,” Gartner said. “We’re sitting here and the cars are done and we’re saving money. But when we’re not racing, we’re not burning tires or fuel and businesses who depend on that are hurting. They’re not selling anything.”

Track announcer Becca Rattai went on Facebook Live with details, including some of the protocols for keeping drivers, workers and fans safe. All involve limiting contact and keeping social distance when not on the track.

Concessions will be open but modified to limit contact and masks are “strongly” recommended.

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