Wagner Speedway is given green light: Dirt track set for season opener on Friday
WAGNER -- Rod Pattison envisions Wagner Speedway serving as an escape for people.
The speedway hosted its car show and test and tune practice night on June 6. It battled rain drops and just a smattering of people were in attendance.
But Pattison’s ambitions are to pack the stands every Friday night, while also being cognizant of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pattison’s intentions are to put on a show for the fans and also serve as an outlet from life in midst of the coronavirus.
“It gives our fans, our guests and our community an opportunity to hopefully forget about life for a while,” said Pattison, who is the track’s general manager. “Hopefully I can put on a good show for them and give them some happiness.”
The season opener for the 3/8-mile dirt track is 7 p.m. on Friday. It was originally scheduled for May 22, but the city had a small coronavirus outbreak and Pattison persuaded the new ownership to ease into the season.
Pattison knows the virus still looms over everything, which is why the track is encouraging social distancing and it’s placed sanitation stations around it. The track isn’t making face masks a requirement and Pattison wants fans to feel comfortable about attending the track.
“I am not going to tell somebody how to live their life,” Pattison said. “I am going to let them live it. That’s how we kind of look at things. No way do we want anything to happen to any of our guests. No way. But we are also going to let them make the decision and not have somebody make it for them.”
As for the auto racers, social distancing lends itself to the sport. The racers are naturally distanced on the track and the pit area.
“We have a larger pit area where we can space the cars out,” Pattison said. “I think South Dakotans and Nebraska, Iowa, Upper Midwest people that come, they’ve got common sense and they are smart and they respect people.”
Armour’s Dudley Schroeder is a regular driver at the track. He said other than not being able to race at certain tracks, the virus hasn’t impacted his racing schedule this season.
“You stay spaced out from each other,” Schroeder said. “You aren’t hands on with everything else when you are walking around now, compared to when we were last year.”
The IMCA SportMods driver has raced at Park Jefferson International Speedway in North Sioux City, which requests all attendees to bring protective gear with them, including face masks or face coverings, protective gloves, goggles or eye coverings.
At the Wagner Speedway, it will race each Friday night until Sept. 4. The track will have two shows on July 3-4. Its season championship is Monday, Sept. 7, which is Labor Day.
Pattison, who has worked at multiple tracks around the region, has big plans for the local oval. He hopes to bring between 25,000-to-30,000 people to town this race season, which will also be an economic boon to the community.
“It’s an economic deal and I take a lot of pride in that and in a community that kind of needs a shot in the arm,” Pattison said. “I think a lot of small towns in South Dakota need some sort of shot in the arm like that. Wagner is very fortunate to have the facility and a tool like this in order to generate tax dollars for the economy.”