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Professional Sports Resume In The Kansas City Area At the Racetrack

Carlos Moreno
Fans at Valley Speedway watch a volley of racers blow past the south grandstands Saturday night in Grain Valley during the POWRi Mid-State Open Wheel Nationals. The track in Grain Valley was one of two in the Kansas City area that opened this weekend for racing and allowed fans to attend.

Taking a cue from NASCAR resuming its stock car races on the national stage, local racing promoters in Missouri open up this weekend.

Live sporting events are underway again in Kansas City after being shut down since mid-March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two tracks—KC Raceway in Independence, Missouri, and Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri—held races over the weekend with open-wheel competition. Lakeside in Kansas City, Kansas, plans to start back up on May 29.

There’s one big difference between what the local tracks are doing compared to NASCAR in North and South Carolina the last two weeks. In Missouri, spectators are allowed to attend the local races.

Valley Speedway owner Dennis Shrout said he checked with the Jackson County Health Department before he opened the gates for open-wheel dirt racing on Saturday night.

“They didn’t tell me I couldn’t race, but they said use my best judgement,” Shrout said. “That was my best judgement, I guess.”

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Brenda Jones sold tickets to a stream of race fans eager to see live racing action at Valley Speedway. Jones and other ticket takers wore gloves and masks while handling money and dealing with customers. The majority of fans, however, were not wearing masks.

Seating capacity at Valley Speedway is 4,000 with the seats split between the north and south grandstands. The majority of the fans were seated on the south grandstands. Shrout capped the attendance at 500.

That suited Katie Snyder of Liberty, Missouri, just fine. She was among the majority of fans attending the races without a face mask though signs were posted all over the track advising fans to take precautions against the spread of the virus.

Racing has been a part of her family for generations, but she says she could take or leave the sport. Regardless she didn’t want to deny her eight-year old son, Lucas, to see the sport he loves.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Lucas Snyder, 8, plays with his collection of toy racing cars prior to action getting underway.

It’s a great feeling to feel normal again,” said Snyder. “He’s been waiting for Valley to open for so long. We had to be here for the first night for sure.”

Sprint car driver Casey Baker of Lone Jack, Missouri, sees both sides of whether to race or not because of the ongoing pandemic. Baker, now 30 and a converted race car driver since the age of 16 after previously competing in rodeo (barrel racing and calf roping), is a cardiology nurse practitioner at Lee’s Summit Medical Center.

When asked if she felt safe with the recommended precautions taken at Valley Speedway, Baker said, “There’s a lot of unknowns. I think we have to continue to keep living our life and be as safe and cautious as we can.”

The only thing spoiling Baker’s night was an engine problem in her sprint car.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Lone Jack racer Casey Baker watches mechanic Lloyd Dickey as he examines a broken high-pressure oil hose in Baker’s sprint car. Baker blew the hose in her first outing on the track but returned to race in later events.

When the night ended for the 2020 opening race at Valley Speedway, Shrout said he was pleased with how the fans handled the recommended precautions.

“I think everyone did a pretty good job of spreading out and not getting on top of each other,” said Shrout.

Time will tell if anyone attending the race eventually tests positive for COVID-19. But for the moment, Shrout considers the return of a live sporting event with spectators a victory.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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