It’s been reported that the popular NASCAR track in Bloomington, Minnesota, is on the brink of closing its doors for the final time. For nearly 80 years, the speedway has been the home of the Minnesota Nascar league and a host of memorable racing moments.
The story began in early October when the town’s mayor, Mike McGowan, got a phone call from a man identifying himself as John Davis, president of Local 925 of the Laborers’ International Union. According to the mayor, Davis told him that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the union was at a loss as to what to do with its machinery and equipment, which were, as a result, not functional. He added that the union would like to see the track remain open so that it could hold some sort of race during the final weeks before the pandemic put an end to the sport.
The news caught the attention of McGowan, who along with his wife, Mary, began researching what would happen to the track if it were to close. After discovering that the owners of the speedway had financial problems and that the town was looking to recoup some of its losses, the McGowan’s decided to try and save the track. In an effort to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, the mayor suggested that the owners hold a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race during the last weekend of April. The owners agreed and the McGowan’s put their effort into making the date a reality.
A Last Chance To See Some Of Nascar’s Greatest Moments
Bloomington is a picturesque town located a few miles west of the Twin Cities. Since its construction in the early 20th century, the population has swelled to around 40,000 residents, which makes it the fifth-largest city in Minnesota. This makes it the perfect size for a sports arena.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the first venue to call Bloomington home, and it holds the record for the most combined winners with 76. Since then, numerous other sports franchises have followed suit, drawn to the vibrant community due to its warm, welcoming people and spectacular natural beauty.
The Town Pays Homage To Its Favorite Pastime
The town’s biggest employer is a health care facility located in the northern part of the city called St. Luke’s Hospital. Every year, the doctors and nurses at the hospital do their best to give thanks to the patrons who keep them in business by hosting a carnival-like festival in the middle of April.
As we’ve established, McGowan is a great fan of NASCAR, and he wanted to give the sport’s fans in Bloomington one more opportunity to see their favorite racecar drivers and teams compete on their home soil. After consulting with the hospital’s leadership and owners of the track, the McGowan’s and his team of supporters decided to host a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the speedway on April 23rd.
The day of the race, the sun was shining, the track was pristine, and there were no signs of the pandemic. Unfortunately, about 2,000 fans showed up to the track anyway, setting a new stadium record for the most people in attendance at a sporting event. While the majority of those fans were present to support their local high school, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, the town’s baseball team, the Twins, had a great many fans come out to see the race as well. In fact, it wasn’t only the two aforementioned sports franchises that had their fans attend the event—it was also fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox; as well as those of the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately, the fans who showed up to the arena that day didn’t have the best experience. With limited space in the stands and many people cramming into already-packed parking lots, the atmosphere inside the stadium was frenetic. In fact, there were reports of fans fainting and having heart attacks from the stress of the overcrowding.
It Was An Opportunity To Reflect On The Past
Aside from the adrenaline rush that comes with watching two-wheeled cars speed by at full throttle, there is another attraction at the arena that draws many patrons there: the Pagoda, an outdoor replica of a Chinese temple that was built in the ‘70s and features an intricate tiled exterior and an expansive overhanging roof. The structure was designed to look like a small pagoda, hence its name, and it has become the symbol of the community.
The pagoda was originally built as a tribute to the Chinese American community, which was in its infancy in the ‘70s. However, it quickly became a symbol of pride for the entire community, attracting people from across the country with its distinctive golden roof and tile work.
The Impact Of The Pandemic
The race took place four days later, on April 27th, and was officiated by the legendary Bobby Allison, who held a tear-jerking reunion with his former crew members before the race even began. With so many crews sharing common work history, it was the perfect opportunity for the crews to get together and have some fun.
Unfortunately, the crews couldn’t have fun, as they were all required to wear masks and gloves, keeping a safe distance from one another. The logistics of getting the drivers safely to and from the track were also challenging, with all the precautions necessary. Between the pandemic and the crews’ cautious nature, the logistics of putting on an outdoor NASCAR race were not easy to overcome. Despite these challenges, the event went off without a hitch and was dedicated to the memory of those lost during the pandemic.
For those who were able to attend the race, it was an incredible opportunity to see some of the greatest drivers in the sport—including many who are now household names—on their home turf. They also got to witness some of the great moments in NASCAR history, including Bobby Allison’s emotional reunion with his former crew members.
Unfortunately, these are unprecedented times, and sports are no different; fans may soon have to find other ways to follow their favorite teams and athletes. With the economy struggling, many professional sports franchises are now defunct, having gone bankrupt or being sold to a group of investors. If this is the case for Bloomington Speedway, then it’s a real shame, because not only is it a historic track, but it’s also a fantastic place to attend a sporting event, especially an American sport like NASCAR, which is how it got its nickname, the “Brake Yard.”
What Comes Next?
While the future of the track is uncertain at this point, it is not a done deal that it will close; many details still need to be worked out before the final say can be determined. One of the main issues is that the owners of the speedway have financial problems, and the town of Bloomington is looking to recoup some of its losses by holding an raffle for tickets to the upcoming Twins game on May 2nd. The town has set up a website, www.SaveBloomingtonSpeedway.com, where people can make donations in support of the effort to save the speedway. The owners have also set up a GoFundMe account, where people can make donations to help offset the costs of the season, which ends on September 30th. As of this writing, more than $12,000 has been raised, so the funds will be handy.
However, a larger problem looms: space. With all the crews and personnel of the track living off-site in hotels, it is an issue that the town has to find temporary housing for. There are also concerns about the safety of the drivers and fans, with the possibility of the pandemic spreading at the track, given the size of the crowds and the close quarters inside the speedway. As previously mentioned, the track is located in a rural area and it is not uncommon to see deer and bears walking around outside the gates.
On one hand, holding a race there was a great success, attracting hundreds of thousands of people in the most rural part of Minnesota. On the other, safety and the concerns about the spread of COVID-19 were significant factors in its demise. The future of sports in general is uncertain as we move forward, especially regarding large gatherings, but holding a race at the speedway was undoubtedly a challenge, even with the best of intentions.