It hasn’t been short-track racing as usual. No crowds. No concession stand foods. Basically no fanfare.

“When you’re on the track, you don’t notice the difference,” said Joe Pastore, 35, the two-time defending Sport Series champion at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. “But when I won the last two weeks in a row, you don’t get to stop on the front stretch and hear the cheers, do the interviews. There’s no pictures. Well, that was kind of a sinking feeling. We’ll just load it up on the trailer and go home.”

But the fact that there is any auto racing happening at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and other short-track venues in Maine, is a step toward normal during the coronavirus pandemic for drivers like Pastore.

And this Saturday, Beech Ridge will finally have some fans in the stands. Like the state’s other tracks, Beech Ridge can establish four 50-person seating areas, for a maximum attendance of 200. Those tickets will sell for $12.

That’s good news for Pastore. At the track’s first two events, held July 18 and July 25, all attendees had to enter through the pit area, at $30 per person, with no one under 14 allowed, per the track’s pit safety policy. That meant his son, Jace, 4, and daughter, Sloan, 2, had to stay home.

“My kids can’t come to see me race and we’re having a hard time finding sitters, and it’s really kind of taken some of the fun out of it,” Pastore said. “Racing’s in their genes for sure. I’ve already told them they’re coming this Saturday and they can’t wait.”

Jace and Sloan’s grandfather is 2015 Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce, and their great grandfather is three-time 250 winner Mike Rowe.

Beech Ridge CEO Andy Cusack said priority seating in the main grandstand will be given to driver and crew families with children under the age of 14. Once the 200-person limit is reached, fans over 14 will have the option to purchase a pit pass. Concession stands will remain closed. Bathrooms will be open.

The lower-budget divisions that would normally be on the Thursday Thunder card get the track at 3 p.m. The three traditional Saturday night divisions – Wildcat, Sport Series and Pro Series – start at 7 p.m.

Cusack said that from a strict business standpoint, it probably made more sense to stay closed this year.

“But from an emotional and loyalty standpoint and the community standpoint – and there is a community in racing and at Beech Ridge – it made sense to open,” Cusack said. “Guys spend all winter working on their cars. This gets them on the track and allows their families to get out. And that first race (on July 18), time and time again it was comments like, ‘it just feels so good to be back doing something that feels normal.'”

Oxford Plains Speedway has been racing weekly since late June, and the 47th Oxford 250 is scheduled for Aug. 30. Oxford Plains opened its grandstands for the first time this past Saturday, again with a 200-person limit and fans separated into four sections. Wiscasset Raceway held its first events last Saturday and filled its 200-person, socially distanced limit by selling VIP season passes.

Beech Ridge will not be crowning season-long champions. Cusack said he did not feel a seven-race schedule warranted a points’ race. But racers are being paid their weekly winners’ bonuses and are receiving trophies.

Pastore said the first two race weeks had about 15 cars in both the Wildcat and Sport Series, comparable to the 2019 car counts in those divisions. The Pro Series, which had fields from 11 to 17 cars in 2019, has been noticeably smaller. With no fans in the stands, Pastore said it’s been harder to acquire sponsorship. He speculated the loss of sponsorship dollars, combined with not having a season-ending points purse, might be keeping some teams home.

“Now it’s just about the passion for competition. It’s still enjoyable to go out and try to win each week,” Pastore said. “But now I don’t really mind taking that chance that you might not if you’re going for points. You can try to win every single week. Plus, why sit out? We’ve already missed out on so many other things this summer.”

Comments are not available on this story.