It’s on again.
Houston Raceway Park Powered by Pennzoil has opened for business. Legal Street Racing kicked off after Gov. Greg Abbott announced his intentions to reopen the state economy.
Operating under the condition of only allowing 25 percent – or 6,250 spectators – in at the park, according to Seth Angel the raceway’s general manager, about 1,500 race fans took in the first night back last Friday at the track amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which was supposed to open in Baytown next month, has shifted its schedule and now the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented By Pennzoil will take place October 23-25.
“It pushed the event far enough away from the current environment we are living in,” Angel said. “We are optimistic that by October people can get together at big events in close proximity. This is a window of time where we can hopefully safely conduct the event.
“Also, I would rather come to the raceway in October rather than June, just considering the weather.”
As for just getting cars and spectators back out on the track, Angel is pleased with the start of getting back to normal.
“It’s a huge relief and we took a look at the governor’s opening Texas orders that he put out and had time to digest it,” Angel said. “We felt comfortable that we could open back up the business. We then communicated our plan with Chambers County officials. They were all extremely supportive, so we did reopen.
“Within 24 hours of letting fans know we were going to open up Friday night with our Legal Street Race we had almost 1,500 fans which was really refreshing. There was a lot of excitement and energy.”
Among the safety measures rolled out at Houston include required use of face masks for all Houston Raceway Park workers. Face masks are not required for participants, crew members or spectators. Cash transaction are also being discouraged.
According to the raceway’s Facebook page, the park listed other expectations for race nights:
-- The Race Control Tower will be restricted-access only and limited to essential staff. Front Computer/Back Computer/Race Steward/Announcer/Safety & Tech Directors).
-- Time slip workers may wear masks and gloves for the distribution of time slips.
-- We will utilize odd-numbered staging lanes—with even-numbered lanes designated as social distance zones to provide adequate access between vehicles.
-- All restrooms are equipped with permanent hand sanitizing dispensers and are stocked throughout the facility. Restrooms will be sanitized at the start, during and end of each night of racing.
-- Concession stands will follow all guidelines in place for local food service businesses. They will be open with a limited menu of prepackaged food items and beverages. Condiments will be provided in packets versus self-serve stations
-- Staging Lanes/Front of Tower: This is the main congregating area for crewmembers and spectators and gathering in this area will be strictly prohibited. Security staff, starting line crew and ambulance staff will closely monitor this area to prevent unauthorized gathering. Spectators will be asked to view the on track action from the grandstands.
Angel noted that having 1,500 people sit in a 25,000-person facility was a blessing as far as keeping social distancing in the forefront.
All major events – that have an expected 2,500 or more spectators were also pushed later into the summer.
“People wanted to get out for a change, but the process was a little different this time around,” Angel said. “We required everyone to view the races from the grandstand and practice social distancing measures. At the end of the day, it was a great night. We are looking forward to opening again Friday night as we make this a step-by-step process.”
“When you put 1,500 fans in an arena that holds 25,000 it looks like nobody is there. We didn’t have big clusters which we weren’t hoping for. We didn’t want a lot of people sitting close to each other by any means. We are going to uphold the rule of law and be really smart about it. There is much more than just racetrack. We don’t want to put our fans at any increased risk.”
Angel also noted that his employees could choose to be moved to other posts to avoid too much additional social contact. He noted no employee of the raceway has been let go to date.
“Everyone stayed on and is willing to work, but if we need to shuffle around their role at the track, we certainly are more than open to do that,” Angel said. “If that isn’t good enough because they are concerned about their health and safety, we understand that too and we aren’t going to force you to work. We will have something for them to do, but at the end of the day it is up to them. We will take care of our employees and team members as best as we can to give them a safe environment to work, provide and make a living.”