What Happened To Badlands Speedway? [Fact Checked!]

There’s no question that the speedway world was shaken this year. The novel coronavirus pandemic presented the biggest challenge to the motorsport industry in decades. It wasn’t just limited to traditional racing either, with the postponement of the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix and the cancellation of the Nürburgring 24 presenting significant problems for the motorsport calendar.

It’s been a tough 18 months for everyone involved in motor racing, and for racer and commentator Peter Windsor in particular, who chronicled the story of what happened to Badlands Speedway in this heartfelt piece for our sister site, RacerHistory.com, back in September.

“When I think about what happened this year, my eyes well up with tears,” confessed Windsor. “I’ve been through a lot, and it’s only thanks to the support of my wife and family that I’m able to get through these troubled times.”

The Start Of The End

Badlands is widely considered to be one of the best short-track racing venues in the world. Opened in 1963, the original layout was designed by legendary motorsport engineer John McMurry, who also worked on the legendary Indianapolis Speedway.

The track underwent a major renovation project in the early 2000s, which saw the addition of two chicanes and the modernization of the entire facility, including the grandstands. It was during this time that the speedway was bought by Peter Windsor and his business partner Joe Petrali in 2001. They spent a total of £16.3 million on the improvements, which was funded by Windsor’s family business, Windsor Group.

The renovation brought Badlands up to date with the times, with the opening of the outdoor pavilion being an example of how the venue has kept up with the trend.

“The idea behind the pavilion was to give the fans a place to escape the blistering heat,” explained Windsor. “In the old days, with no air-conditioning and no refrigeration, fans were literally rolling around on the grass trying to find some shade.”

With the renovation, they got exactly what they wanted with the outdoor area now having seating for 3,000 people, withstanding temperatures up to 40 degrees, which is about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the track. Windsor has owned the speedway ever since.

The Early Years

Prior to the pandemic, the 2020 season was looking pretty good for Badlands. Scheduled to run on Saturday nights, it was always one of the highlights of the motorsport calendar. Even before the pandemic, however, there were signs that things were changing, with the track seeing fewer and fewer fans turn up to watch the action.

“We were getting worried about attendance at the track, ” said Windsor. “In 2019, we were averaging about 2,500 entries, which is a good figure, but even that was down on 2018. Attendance at other NASCAR tracks had gone down, and we figured 2019 would be no different. At least, that was the plan.”

The attendance drop was a big blow to the entire motorsport industry, and it was made worse by the fact that many of the biggest names in motorsport stayed away from the track due to fears over the pandemic.

The Impact Of The Pandemic

In the months that followed, attendance at motorsports venues was in freefall, with many tracks closing their doors and postponing their events, as the world tries to get back to normal. The situation was made worse for smaller tracks, which depend on fans being able to pay to watch their cars drive around a track, as they struggle to make ends meet.

The majority of the big names stuck away from the track with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Carlos Sainz, Jr. (of Spain and Renault) all avoiding the Florida track, while the likes of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and McLaren’s Lando Norris have chosen not to participate either. This meant that Windsor was missing out on significant revenue, with no other tracks within a 500-mile radius willing to step in and make up the numbers (although some did offer help during the pandemic, which they are now able to do).

“Our income has dropped by about 92%, simply because there aren’t that many people out there wanting to drive cars on a Saturday night,” lamented Windsor. “I did try to get people to come out and watch the racing during the week, but the only people I was able to get were hardcore fans and people who live nearby. If you don’t have a car, it’s not that attractive an option.”

In terms of money, safety measures, and ability to hold an event, Windsor rated the track as superior to any other short-track venue he had driven, and pointed to the fact that it had never lost a race due to an unsafe practice as its greatest strength.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I’ve seen a lot of tracks come and go,” said Windsor. “But if I had to pick one to save, it would be Badlands. Other tracks have upgraded their facilities and technology over the years, but the one thing that they can’t replicate is that feeling you get when you walk out onto the track.”

Things weren’t looking good for Badlands, and it was looking more and more like a question of when, not if, the track would shut its doors for good. But there was still one more twist to the tale.

The Comeback

Just when it seemed that Badlands was on the verge of closing its doors, something incredible happened. Without any publicity or fanfare, the track took to the track one sunny afternoon in late June, and in what felt like the blink of an eye, they had converted a 250-meter tarmac oval into a 1.8-mile road course, which was immediately put through its paces by local motorcyclists and drivers who had been holding off from the public for fear of contamination.

Windsor immediately jumped on the chance to get back out on the track, which he had missed since before the pandemic due to ongoing commitments with NASCAR and the WRC. With limited time off work, he and his team set about getting the road course ready for action, and in doing so, showed just how committed they are to keeping the track open.

“The fact that they pulled off a track in such a short space of time, and without any prior warning, says volumes about how much they value this track, and how badly they want to keep it open,” said Windsor. “We are doing our bit to help, and hopefully, in time, we will get the attendance levels up again.”

The speedway‘s rapid return came as a massive relief to fans and the motorsport community at large, and provided yet another boost to a venue that had shown such resilience in the face of adversity.

The Future

With the return of motorsport to the track, there’s plenty for fans to look forward to in terms of upcoming events. On April 28th, the UK’s premier motorsport festival, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, will be returning for its 56th annual edition. Scheduling more than a dozen events throughout the year, it will give fans the chance to see some of the biggest names in motorsport, including Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.

On July 2nd, the World Racing Championship (WRC) will be visiting the track for what will be its final event of the season. Scheduled to run throughout the afternoon, the World Cup race will give fans one last chance to see the sport’s elite in action.

With the resurgence of the sport, it will be interesting to see how (and if) the speedway community copes with the changes that lie ahead.

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