SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The NARC King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Car Series will kick off its racing campaign at Keller Auto Speedway in Hanford, Calif., on Saturday, in an event that will showcased in front of an empty grandstand due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
However, the race will be available to fans around the world through pay-per-view. Details on the pay-per-view broadcast can be found here.
As the world continues to adapt to ever changing guidelines and restrictions, this event received an approval from local government and health officials as long as specific rules were followed. The most radical of those guidelines is racing in front of an completely empty grandstand.
In addition, race teams entering the pit area are limited to five people per team (including driver) and must follow a full set of COVID-19 safety rules. This includes getting their temperatures taken at the pit gate.
To date, the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the traveling 410 sprint car series’ originally-scheduled 19 races, with seven events being cancelled or postponed.
The delayed season opener, which was not on the original schedule, was the result of painstaking hard work by former driver and Hanford track promoter Peter Murphy.
“We had to run a gauntlet of government and local officials to make this show happen,” said Murphy. “It required their cooperation to approve our efforts before we were allowed to proceed. That was not as easy process, and I hope it leads to racing in front of fans again in the near future.”
Leading a full field of NARC sprint cars will be local driver DJ Netto. The Hanford driver is the defending NARC King of the West champion after claiming his first title in an epic points battle last season.
Netto has spent the past few weeks racing throughout the Midwest, where coronavirus restrictions eased much earlier.
“It’s nice to finally get going here in California!” said Netto. “I think all this was blown way out of hand, so we went and raced in the Midwest. You wouldn’t even know there was something called COVID-19 back there, racing front of full crowds. Racing without fans will have a little different feel. It’s almost like we are testing.”
Fresno’s Dominic Scelzi, who won an All Star Circuit of Champions main event in Louisiana Sunday, has also traveled around the country – racing with and without fans in the grandstands.
“It’s amazing how different racing without fans actually feels,” said Scelzi, who will be competing in Hanford on Saturday. “Once you’re off the track, there is an eerie quietness to it all. And as you roll around the track to line up, the stands look brighter because they reflect more light. It’s a very odd experience for us drivers.”
Either way, most race tracks in California have a green light to move forward, but with limitations. The racing community takes that as a positive move in the right direction.
“We hope this is the start of something good.” said NARC GM Jim Allen, “Everybody is eager to get back to normal, even if it’s a ‘new normal.’ We had a great season lined-up and were ready to go back in March, but the pandemic sidelined those efforts. As a result, a lot of our teams have not strapped on a helmet in more than seven months and all would prefer to do it in front of a packed grandstand. However, they also realize that we have to ease back into this activity because it’s a spectator-driven event.”
Several past champions will be represented in a stacked field of competitors at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval.
Among those registered are four-time series champ Kyle Hirst of Paradise; two-time series winner Tim Kaeding of San Jose (2002 & 2011), 2018 titlist Bud Kaeding of Campbell; and Sean Becker of Roseville, the 2005 series champion.
Collectively, they have laid claim to 127 King of the West feature event victories.
Other top contenders will be Roseville’s Willie Croft, Colby Copeland and Jodie Robinson; Sean Watts from Clovis; Tracy’s Kyle Offill; Indiana’s Spencer Bayston; Mitchell Faccinto of Hanford; Auburn’s Richard Brace Jr.; and Craig Stidham of Fresno.
Also on the racing card will be the Kings of Thunder non-wing 360 Bandit sprint cars and the 305 Racesavers sprint cars.
The NARC King of the West portion of the program will consist of individual qualifying, four eight-lap heat races, a six-lap trophy dash, a 12-lap last chance qualifier and a 30-lap Fujitsu-sponsored headliner which pays $3000 to the winner.
Pit gates open at 1:00 p.m. The drivers meeting starts at 4:30 p.m., with the first session of hot laps taking place around 5:30 p.m.