RURAL RETREAT, Va. - Wythe Raceway owner Fred Brown has heard the same question since early April.
“Hundreds of people have asked when we were going to have our first event,” said the 79-year-old Brown. “They had a hard time understanding how tracks in states like North Carolina and Tennessee could be racing, while we couldn’t do it here.”
Brown’s phone line was busy again Thursday for a different reason.
Early in the afternoon, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gave clearance for the state to advance to Phase 3 of the Forward Virginia reopening plan on July 1.
Under that plan, outdoor entertainment venues will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity and host a maximum of 1,000 people.
The opening event at Wythe Raceway has been set for July 4.
Brown, who once worked as biologist and conducted research for the Smithsonian Institution, said he understands the safety restrictions placed on Virginia due to COVID-19.
“I’ve been following the news for months, and I had an inkling that Gov. Northam might announce something this week,” Brown said. “This is excellent for our fans and racers.”
The staff at Wythe Raceway has been busy all this week sprucing up the sprawling grounds and grading the dirt surface on the high-banked, half-mile dirt track.
According to Brown, spectators will be asked to wear face masks and sanitation stations will be place around the concession, arcade and restrooms areas. Exact details on grandstand attendance will be worked out later.
“We’re fortunate to have hillside seating and tier parking, plus we have 12 acres for competitors to spread out in the infield,” Brown said.
The annual July 4 fireworks show has been shelved due to the timing of Thursday’s announcement and expenses, but Brown said he may add that program at a later date
“We had a really good schedule planned for this season,” said Brown, who began construction of the popular track located just off Interstate 81 in 1969. “We’re not sure about the status of the touring races we had planned, but we will do the best we can with that.”
In addition to the five regular divisions at Wythe, attractions such as the Southern National Series and a $10,000-to-win Super Late Model race were on the original 2020 schedule.
“We’re in the entertainment business, and we fortunate to have a loyal fan base and lots of racers,” Brown said.
Perhaps no Wythe regular was happier with Thursday’s news than Duke Bare.
The 45-year-old Meadowview resident made his motorsports debut at age 14 in the Mini-Stock class at Wythe. Since then, Bare has recorded over 200 wins and claimed over 20 track titles.
“And I had pretty good plans on winning the Super Stock championship this year,” Bare said. “But I haven’t even been able to uncover my car.”
So how much frustration has Bare felt over the past three months?
“I grew up racing and working on cars, and this is by far the longest I’ve ever gone without racing,” Bare said. “Heck, I haven’t been able to do anything.”
Bare has served as a mentor to aspiring racers such as former NASCAR truck series competitor Justin Fontaine and Robbie Allison, the son of former NASCAR Cup regular Davey Allison.
When Kingsport Speedway finally opened on May 29, Bare offered to help fellow Washington County racer George Wolfe and his son Kevin.
“I’ve talked to a bunch of guys who run at Wythe and everybody is motivated to get back at it,” Bare said. “And they definitely should have their cars ready by now.”
George Wolfe, 62, was working in his Meadowview race shop late Wednesday night. An Emory & Henry graduate and former teacher, Wolfe has been racing for 39 years
“We waited all winter to get back on the track,” Wolfe said. “You just get into a routine. We were tickled to death when Kingsport opened back up with about 2,000 fans. And we’ve been waiting to see what would happen at Wythe.”
Kevin Wolfe, 32, won the track title in the Mod 4 class at Kingsport Speedway last year despite juggling a hectic work schedule as a pharmacist near his home in Church Hill, Tennessee. Kevin also won four Sportsman races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I serve as the crew chief, spotter and mechanic for Kevin,” Wolfe said. “We just love the sport.”
Chilhowie’s Morgan Widener, 27, is another Wythe Raceway regular who shares that need for speed. Widener has earned over 35 victories and four championships in the open wheel modified division
“Wythe Raceway is just 20 minutes up the road from my home so when we aren’t running with the Mid-East Modified tour we will be back up there,” Widener said.
Widener bought a new car for this season but wasn’t able to get on any track until the first of June. He has made the 105-mile journey to Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, North Carolina several times, and plans to venture to 311 Motor Speedway in Pine Hall, North Carolina, and to Rolling Thunder Raceway in Ararat, Virginia, this weekend.
As for Wythe Raceway, Brown said he plans to schedule the first practice session for July 1.
“The interesting about all this is that all of our scheduled races would have been rained out except for maybe this weekend,” Brown said. “It’s just been so wet. The first time we were able to dry out the track and get around it was this week.”
As Virginia prepares to enter to Phase Three of its opening plan, the workload will increase for Brown and his experienced staff.
“We’ve had calls from folks in six or seven states who are looking to make travel plans and watch some racing,” Brown said.
Weekly divisions at Wythe this season will be Super Street, Pro Mini, Open-Wheel Modified, KCAR and UCAR.
“I’ve been on the phone most of the afternoon, and we’ve been working to get the track in good shape. It’s been a good day,” Brown said.
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