SELINSGROVE — The motorsports industry is advocating for federal relief funds to benefit race tracks hit with economic difficulties as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert Johnson, director of Government Affairs for the U.S. Motorsports Association, said a coalition is working to have federal legislation introduced which would provide funding for outdoor race tracks, county fairgrounds and motorsports tracks.
“We are hoping to get it included in a stimulus package in 2021,” he said. “We are going down that road for the race tracks.”
Johnson said his organization is working with the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) and the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) to include the funding in a future stimulus package.
Johnson, who is based in the Pittsburgh area, said his organization worked to help race tracks open in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.
“I think, by in large, most of our tracks had a pretty hard year (in 2020),” he said.
Race tracks in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey all started their seasons later than normal, Johnson said.
“Hagerstown Speedway down in Maryland, they had a real tough year,” he said. “Ohio (race tracks) also had a difficult year.”
Under the funding proposal, Johnson said tracks would be eligible for money based on their 2020 losses, compared to 2019 revenue.
While the legislation is being pursued, he stressed that a bill has not yet been crafted.
Johnson said some tracks have pursued funding through the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) program.
“That legislation was written restrictive to (independent) concert venues,” he explained. “That was done because of the grassroots lobby they put together to advance their cause, lobbying for their legislation. They brought in musical celebrities, JLo.”
Because those grants are geared toward musical venues, Johnson said there are challenges for motorsports venues which apply for the funding. In addition, he said entities which applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans are not eligible to apply for the SVOG grants.
“A lot of race tracks were able to apply for that (PPP loan) and many have,” Johnson said.
Selinsgrove Speedway was among the motorsports venues to apply for a PPP loan, according to track General Manager Steve Inch.
“We did get some help, which was very helpful through the 2020 season,” Inch said.
While he did not specify the amount of the speedway’s PPP loan, Inch said the track’s revenue declined by “as much as 30%” in 2020.
He indicated the lost revenue was mainly due to the start of the season being delayed by about two months. He also described crowds as being “pretty sparse” when the track first opened.
“We did end up having a pretty good year, once the season got rolling,” Inch said. “Throughout the season, we noticed we had a lot of first-time visitors to the track.
“There weren’t many options (for entertainment) last year,” he continued. “It gave people something to do during the summer months, locally.”
Inch expressed thanks that the speedway’s PPP loan was forgiven by the federal government.
He noted Congressman Fred Keller (R-Pa. 12), Sen. John Gordner (R-27) and Rep. David Rowe (R-85) have all been supportive of the speedway, with all three visiting the track in 2020.
A statement from Keller’s office noted the congressman’s support of the speedway.
“Every person in our area knows how important the Selinsgrove Speedway is to our community,” Keller said. “In Congress, I have advocated for targeted relief to support our small businesses and workers like the individuals at Selinsgrove Speedway to help them get through the pandemic.”
He said the U.S. Small Business Administration has been “a critical partner in driving out federal funds through programs like” the PPP.
“Through direct conversations with the SBA, our team has relayed concerns from business owners and operators in PA-12 who are in need of additional relief,” Keller said. “As we continue to defeat this virus, my efforts remain focused on making sure local businesses get the help they need and promoting a full, safe reopening of Pennsylvania so that venues like Selinsgrove Speedway can get back to normal.”