On a warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon at South Boston Speedway, several drivers were testing for the season opening race scheduled for Saturday.
Drivers and crew members were making adjustments and turning laps when the news broke.
The speedway was canceling the race.
Just as the drivers, fans and racing community were getting excited for the season to start, it was gone.
Five-time Late Model Stock Car Division champion Peyton Sellers was one of those at the track Wednesday preparing for the season opener. Sellers, who is the reigning champion in the Late Model Division, was looking forward to getting the season started this weekend at South Boston Speedway, but frustration set in as the word made its way around the track the race had been canceled.
“It is just frustrating because for a lot of people this is their livelihood, this is what they do. The other half of us this is what we come to do and enjoy and get away from reality on Saturday nights and see racing,” Sellers said.
Danny Willis Jr., the reigning Limited Sportsman Division champion, had canceled plans they had previously made to race go-karts with his son when he got word they were going to race at the speedway.
“I am kind of bummed out. We had made plans to go race my son on go-karts before they decided to race South Boston, so I wound up having to cancel my plans on all of that and then we were getting the car ready to go to South Boston and getting pumped up about going,” Willis said. “We were going to test on Friday but then we got the news that they were going to cancel it,” he added.
Sellers and his team have raced a few times this season at Dominion Raceway, located outside of Fredricksburg, but those races were held with no fans, something that Sellers doesn’t find feasible for tracks like South Boston.
“These tracks are no different than any other small business in America. They need fans in the stands to make money. The track here at South Boston, their hands have been tied all season long,” Sellers said.
Sellers also understands that going against the governor’s orders is not something that the speedway wants to do, and that there are other issues at stake.
“I am sure there are some insurance complications for the reason we can’t race this weekend, because let’s face it the governor has put everyone on shutdown and nobody wants to do anything that’s against the law and I understand that side of it too,” Sellers said. “It’s a tough call, I know the track is doing all they can,” he added.
Willis echoed Sellers in knowing the speedway’s hands were tied when it came to canceling the race. Willis said is just a bad deal and that he knows that there is nothing that the racetrack can do right now.
“They are trying to do all they can to get us back started racing,” he said.
Ace Speedway in Alamance County, North Carolina, has been in the national spotlight since operators decided to reopen in May against North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders. The speedway was ordered shutdown by the health department and governor, and a judge ruled Wednesday in favor of the state that the speedway must remain closed.
Sellers, of Danville, said he had customers race at Ace Speedway when they were still operating and he said the situations are similar.
“We had some customers race at Ace Speedway earlier this year until they got in trouble, but they were the same way. The owners said ‘Hey I am in jail not being able to race, so what’s the risk? I need to be out here trying to make a living,’” Sellers said.
Willis also raced at Ace Speedway while waiting on South Boston to reopen and is hopeful to get back racing soon whether it is at Ace or South Boston.
“We are just sitting here waiting to see if we get to go back over there (Ace) or go to South Boston,” he said. “We kind of got pumped up to go to South Boston when they announced that they were going to race, but it just isn’t going to work out for us this weekend.”
Sellers reiterated that a lot of the drivers and crewmembers rely on races to support their families and how important that is. “There are a lot of guys out here that do this for a hobby, but there’s also a lot of guys out here that make a living doing it too and man we just want to get back to normal life,” Sellers said.
Willis is trying to stay optimistic about the race season starting soon, but it is also hard when people much higher up than track officials determine a lot of it.
“Everybody is trying to stay safe and keep the spread of the virus down, but I am pretty sure a lot of people have gotten tired of sitting around the house too, so hopefully we will get things going pretty quick,” he said. “It is just a bummer, you kind of get your hopes up and then you get let down but it is really nothing they can do about it, we will just get it (racecar) ready and have it ready for the next time they do try to get to race.”