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Even though no fans are allowed to attend the stock car races at Hermon’s Speedway 95 due to COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols, track owner Del Merritt said he will continue to have racing on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
There have been two Wacky Wednesday cards and one Saturday night show so far.
“If the facility is open, we’re a lot better off,” Merritt said. “When things are closed, they tend to deteriorate. This way, we have to keep up with the repairs as needed and take care of different stuff.”
He also feels it is important to give the drivers a chance to race.
“They’re building cars so they’re eager to race them,” Merritt said. “A lot of them have been very appreciative and that is gratifying.”
Running a stock car track is an expensive venture. In addition to paying taxes to the town of Hermon and the normal everyday bills like the electricity, Merritt also has to pay insurance on the track and for ambulance and wrecker crews on race nights as well pay his own employees.
“It’s going to be a tough road. Hopefully, we can survive it,” said Merritt. “I’m definitely going to try to hang in there unless things go crazy out of whack. I’m a stubborn old fella’.”
According to Merritt, the insurance costs $1,000 per race night, the ambulance service charges $100 an hour and a show usually lasts anywhere from two to four hours and the wrecker service charges $300 per night. He didn’t have the figures for employee wages.
Then there are the payouts to the drivers.
The payouts are based on the number of cars in each class and Merritt paid out $4,900 in purse money for the first Saturday night show, which was pushed back to Friday night due to weather concerns.
He paid out $3,100 to the 15 Late Model drivers, $1,050 to the 15 Street Stock racers, $450 to the seven Sport Four entrants and $300 to the 11 CageRunners.
There are two primary classes on Wednesday nights and those two pay just the top five finishers with the total purse coming to $395. The top five finishers in the Modified Enduros share $210 and the five in the RoadRunners split $185.
They also have a Stars of Tomorrow class for youngsters which doesn’t pay out.
Where Merritt is able to cover his costs is in the entry fee and pit passes.
Each team pays $25 per person for a Saturday night show and $15 for a Wacky Wednesday. They are allowed 10 people per team.
So if there are 300 people on a Saturday night, that works out to $7,500, which enables Merritt to break even. He said he needs 200 in the pits for a Wednesday night show to break even.
However, he could suffer a financial hardship if car counts dip because there would be fewer pit passes sold.
Merritt said his employees have been invaluable in the track’s opening.
“Without my employees, we wouldn’t have had racing,” Merritt said. “They have been under a lot of stress. They have worked super hard. Last Friday, each employee was doing the work of three people.”
Merritt said he hasn’t reached out to his sponsors because he wasn’t sure if there would be a season.
“I didn’t want to bill them for something we didn’t end up having. I’d rather make sure I treat them right and have them for another year,” he said.
Like the other race track owners, he is hoping Gov. Janet Mills will allow them to open up the grandstands to a limited number of fans.
Speedway 95 can hold up to 3,000 spectators.
“Any number [allowed in] will help,” he said.
Oxford Plains Speedway has been racing without spectators since the end of June. Wiscasset Speedway continues to remain closed until fans are allowed in the grandstands and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough has also yet to open, but its Facebook page has a seven-race schedule listed beginning on Saturday night.
Unity Raceway and Spud Speedway in Caribou haven’t had weekly racing in several years.