KNOXVILLE, Iowa — In Knoxville, “getting back to normal” means the sound of revving engines, the smell of exhaust and the sight of the famous raceway once again lit up at night. That’s about to happen, but like everything else, this reopening will have one great big catch to it. Fans can’t be in attendance.
The World of Outlaws races are happening Friday night in Knoxville with some of the biggest sprint car names coming to town, but fans can’t be there to kick of the racing season in person. That’s tough, especially for the die hard fans who’ve spent years coming to the Knoxville Raceway every single weekend, only to this time be forced to watch it via pay-per-view (PPV).
“I think it’s a good way to get started to get back racing, as long as we can get back to having fans in the stands as soon as possible,” AJ Mottet, owner of Dingus Lounge in Knoxville said. “I’m excited to watch something, but to me, living in Knoxville, being a fan, and then having a bar across the street. I’ll be sitting across here in an open lot, listening to [the races] and I can’t even be there. It’s literally as painful as it gets. I’d rather get a tooth pulled I think.”
This will be the first time Mottet’s bar hasn’t been open for a racing night, which typically brings in a lot of revenue. Though he’s taking a hit financially, Mottet said he knows everyone from Governor Reynolds to raceway directors are facing tough decisions right now.
Drivers agree with Mottet, saying racing isn’t racing without the fans, even though you might not be able to hear or see them while speeding down the track in a sprint car.
“You don’t hear the roar of the fans and the cheers when when you’re on the racetrack and you’re at speed, but there are times that, you know, the things that the fans do send a chill down your spine,” 10-time World of Outlaws champion Danny Schatz said. “You know if you’ve ever been to the Knoxville nationals and seeing the four wide salute, just being a part of that is something that you could never describe that feeling to people.”
Schatz said racing without fans is a good first stepping stone to get this economy back up and running, but hopes the idea of having having to watch on DIRTVison is short lived. Local sprint car driver Austin McCarl agrees.
“I think the PPV thing is definitely good for the current situation we’re in. I’m glad this didn’t happen 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago when [PPV] wasn’t very good. So that’s definitely a positive, but we definitely need the fans back, I mean they make the events. Atmosphere is everything. I mean what would the Knoxville nationals be without 22,000 people? It wouldn’t be. It would just be another race. So it’s definitely going to affect us all and the sooner we can get the fans back in the stands the better, safely,” McCarl said.
While the World of Outlaws is still competing, the Knoxville Raceway is postponing their own hosted weekly series until fans can return.
Hot laps for the World of Outlaws start at 6:30 p.m. Friday night and WHO 13’s Mark Freund will be there reporting live.