Drivers follow social distancing guidelines during area's first race of the season

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Grand Forks NOSA sprints driver Wade Nygaard (9N) leads the field during a restart at River Cities Speedway last season. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the sports world since mid-March. But one sign that sporting events may be coming back came last Saturday at Park Jefferson Speedway near Sioux City, Iowa, where the Open Wheel Nationals took place.

In fact, that may have been the only live sporting event in the country since the pandemic shut down all sports.

Three NOSA drivers competed in the sans fans event -- Wade Nygaard, Brendan Mullen and Jack Croaker.

Social distancing and face masks were required for all drivers, crew members and track officials. There were 32 sprint car teams from across the country that showed up and no crew could have more than 10 members.

“There weren’t any issues of any kind,” said Nygaard, one of the top drivers at River Cities Speedway. “It felt a little odd wearing a mask, but as far as everything else, it was pretty much business as usual. Everyone kept to themselves a little more and the way the rigs were parked, we had a little more room to work.”


The precautions taken by Park Jefferson Speedway may serve as a guideline for area tracks that are preparing for the 2020 season.

River Cities Speedway is scheduled to hold its first race on May 22. The date is tentative, however.

According to track officials, it’s likely social distancing guidelines will be in place if the RCS season is launched on May 22.

“It was great to get things going for the season,” said Nygaard. “Hopefully, other tracks won’t be afraid to try something like that.”

To counter the fact that no fans were in attendance, the races were streamed on pay-per-view for $29.

The event featured 410 sprints and IMCA modifieds

Of the 32 sprint drivers, a handful came from Pennsylvania. Brock Zearfoss of Jonestown, Pa., won the 25-lap feature. Mullen, who held off Zearfoss to win his heat race, finished 22nd, while Nygaard finished 24th.

“I got caught up in a first-lap melee,” said Nygaard. “So I was done. I got to watch a race that I was supposed to be in .


“It was a long way to go for that but it was still fun to get out and make a few laps.”

The event also attracted former NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace, who drove an IMCA modified.

The next night of racing in the region may be May 15 at Jackson, Minn. The Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway is scheduled for a May 16 season opener.

Nygaard said he plans to race at Jackson, and it’s expected social distancing guidelines again will be in place.

“It was a little awkward having a mask on,” said Nygaard. “Sometimes, you’d look at someone and wonder, ‘Is that who I think it is?’ ”

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.

He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.

He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.

Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or
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