When the checkered flag is bestowed upon the first Pro All Stars Series winner of the 2020 season, the ceremony will be as uncertain as most everything has been all year long.

“What do you do?” said multi-time series champion Ben Rowe. “Do you stop on the frontstretch? Do you get out of the car? Do you do a burnout? I mean, nobody will be there to care, so what’s the point in celebrating if there’s nobody there to celebrate with?”

As auto racing in New England goes, nobody knows what to expect. Sunday’s season-opening 150-lap event at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, will be just the second stock car race of 2020 in the region. The first was being held Friday night at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire, for the Granite State Pro Stock Series.

In both cases, spectators are not allowed to pack the grandstands to watch the races. And, in both cases, track and series officials have put significant measures in place to encourage social distancing and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teams won’t all arrive at the track at the same time and form a long line to enter the pit area Sunday morning at WMMP. Teams will be asked to remain with their own cars and race haulers and avoid mingling.

Three-time and defending Oxford 250 champion Travis Benjamin of Morrill planned to compete in both races.

“I don’t really know how I feel about it, to be honest with you,” Benjamin said. “I’m still kind of up in the air about it. I’m glad to get back at it, because obviously I do it for the competition. But at the same time, you also do this so people will see it and you can put on a good show for them.”

Sunday’s PASS race will be available to fans on a pay-per-view basis on the Northeast Sports Network — the same service that broadcasts Colby College and Bowdoin College sporting events, as well as some of Maine’s high school sports tournaments. The racing begins at 2 p.m. with qualifying and support divisions.

There are differing opinions on how well it will be received, particularly if spectators are barred from live racing in Maine and New Hampshire for any length of time this summer.

“I do think people will watch it. There’s nothing else sport-wise going on right now to watch,” said Hallowell’s Johnny Clark, a six-time PASS champion. “I think having the potential to watch it on a computer does open it up to people.”

“I think this whole pay-per-view thing won’t fly,” said Rowe, of Turner. “I think one time like this is fine. But if we have to do this for another five or six races, I think we’ll start to see it differently. We need the fans at the tracks. The tracks need the fans.”

Part of the concern is economical, both Clark and Rowe admit.

Unlike major-league level NASCAR events with multi-million dollar television and sponsorship contracts footing the bills, the local auto racing model is much simpler. Promoters, track owners and series officials need revenue in the form of ticket sales at the front gate and pit passes at the back gate.

For Sunday’s race at WMMP, teams are limited to no more than 10 people per car entered, including the driver.

“You’ve got to be (concerned) about the big picture,” Benjamin said. “It will be interesting to see if (PASS president Tom Mayberry and WMMP owner Cris Michaud) do all right with this. I hope they do — that way we can keep racing. If not, we probably won’t get to keep doing this. This could be our one shot.

“Promoters can’t keep doing that if they’re losing money. It will be interesting to see how they’ll make out this weekend.”

It will also be interesting to see how the on-track product plays out. During green-flag racing, drivers rarely notice the grandstands and who is (or isn’t) in them. But during breaks in the action, during caution periods or pre- and post-race festivities, that’s when the races this weekend will appear very different from the norm.

Racers and their teams are competitive by nature. Once the first engine fires for a practice session, it will be business as usual this weekend.

Until it isn’t.

“At some point, I know we’re not going to live like this forever,” said Clark, who plans to limit how many people on his crew are even allowed in the hauler and how many can be there at one time. “I think we’ve got to test the waters at some point, and that’s what I’m willing to do while at the same time keeping my team safe.”

“We’re the circus putting on the show, and what we always do is for the fans,” Rowe said. “It’s going to be weird. The whole day of getting there — the whole process, staying with your team, kind of being by yourself. But we’re all going to be in pit area like always, and that part of it will be the same.

“The bad thing is going to be driving out on the frontstretch and not seeing a single person sitting out there.”


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