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Drivers battle for position during the IMCA Modified main event during the 2018 Dubuque County Fair races at the Dubuque Fairground Speedway.

With live sports as scarce as they’ve ever been, race organizers at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds feel there’s never been a better time to give local auto racing a try.

The hope is that Dubuque Speedway can fill that void.

While nearly every other sporting event is on hold, from professional leagues to the high school scene, local dirt track racing is making a comeback. Kevin Kotz, general manager of the Dubuque County Fairgrounds, plans to kick off the Speedway’s summer racing slate a week from Sunday. With it, he believes the sport can provide something the public has sorely missed these last couple of months — drama, excitement and competition.

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“People need to get out and be with their friends, their family and people are going to want to watch sports,” said Kotz, who has stepped in as Dubuque Speedway promoter for 2020. “The drivers, the spectators have been calling us constantly about when we’re going to have racing back. We’re trying to give the community something to do.

“My goal is to get people in that maybe haven’t seen a race before. As long as the weather and COVID-19 agree with us, we have some nice events lined up.”

The drivers have already returned to the track. Dubuque Speedway invited them to use the 3/8-mile dirt oval on Thursday and Kotz said he plans to have a couple more practice runs leading up to opening day on May 31. Other local tracks, such as Farley’s 300 Raceway and Maquoketa Speedway, have hosted drivers for practices as well.

However, under social distancing guidelines, spectators will not be allowed for the Fairgrounds’ first races. In lieu of that, Kotz has brought in Davenport, Iowa, based Done Right TV to livestream Dubuque’s races in hopes of capturing his audience.

Once the state lifts parameters for public gatherings, Kotz said the Speedway is the ideal place to safely take in live entertainment. The grandstands can hold 8,000 spectators, meaning there’s plenty of room for fans to watch races while observing social distancing.

“As soon as (Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds) tells us that we can open to spectators, we have plenty of room,” Kotz said. “We can do a great job of social distancing. There’s enough room to stay 6 feet apart. They don’t have to sit in the bleachers right next to someone. It’s out in the open air.”

Social distancing parameters will also extend to the pit. Kotz said race teams will be required to set up at least 10 feet apart and limit the amount of people in each crew to 10 or less.

The Speedway hasn’t been above the blows coronavirus has dealt over the last several months. Two races scheduled for this month were canceled and one of Dubuque’s most anticipated racing events, the World of Outlaws Sprint series on June 19, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

But Kotz is optimistic that if the track can re-open for spectators, Dubuque will be able to land another marquee event (like the Outlaws) yet this summer.

“We’re still in the process (of scheduling),” Kotz said. “I’m sure we’ll try to get another special event in.”

This is the first time in more than 15 years that the Fairgrounds will oversee promotion of Speedway races. The previous promoter, Trackside Promotions, dropped the title in January. The Fairgrounds attempted to find a new promotion team, but as the season drew closer, took over the role in order to ensure a racing season.

“We thought about what a great facility we have out here and a big part of that is the race track,” Kotz said. “I didn’t want it to sit empty. We know there’s a great love of the sport in the tri-state area. There’s still a need for the sport, we just have to make it exciting to come out to the Fairgrounds.”

The Speedway’s season-opener is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. For now the plan is to race without spectators, though Kotz said the governor may re-open the state in the week leading up to race day. Once spectators are allowed, admission is $12 for adults 17 and older, $10 for seniors 65 and older, $6 for ages 13-17 and free for kids 12 and under.

Coronavirus has already knocked out a lot of fun activities in the area. For those who are bored, Kotz says to consider the Speedway.

“It’s fast paced and the drivers put on a great show,” he said. “If you like any kind of racing, this is great entertainment. I think a lot of people will find it fun.”