MONROE — Evergreen Speedway just concluded what was undoubtedly the most unusual season in the racetrack’s 66-year history.
The 2020 season, originally scheduled to start its engine on March 28, ended up waving the green flag three months later. And when winners hopped out of their cars on victory row, instead of being greeted by thousands of cheering fans they were met by a trackside reporter with a microphone in front of an empty and silent grandstand.
The season may not have gone as planned, but it can be considered a triumph that the track was able to conduct a season at all.
Evergreen’s season, abbreviated because of the coronavirus pandemic, came to a conclusion on Oct. 17 with the running of the Central Welding Supply 125. That ended a season in which major races had to be canceled, restrictions were placed in the pits, and there were no fans in the stands. But the track also was introduced to a wider audience via its television broadcasting deal with CW11, and it found a way to endure a difficult 2020.
“I’m very proud of the fact we had very competitive racing, it was very safe, we were prepared every weekend, and we did everything we could following federal, state and county guidelines,” track president Doug Hobbs said. “We’re very proud of the team and what we accomplished.”
“I commend the Hobbs family and the Evergreen staff for doing their absolute best to keep their business going and supply the racing community, which has thousands of people involved in it,” veteran Pro Late Models driver Jeff Knight from Monroe said. “It gave us an activity in 2020, when a lot of our lives were really disrupted.”
The pandemic forced the track to suspend operations until June 27, when it held its first race of the season. The hope was the track would eventually be allowed to open to at least some fans, but while Hobbs said there were moments when it looked like that might happen, it never materialized, meaning it was a full season of racing in front of empty stands.
“The noise from the race car means you don’t hear the cheering, but it was definitely different not meeting the fans before the races,” Pro Late Models driver Daniel Moore from Snohomish, who was named the Washington State NASCAR Champion, said about racing in front of no fans. “Evergreen Speedway does a meet and greet before every race, and it’s a great time to meet the fans and talk to the kids, so we didn’t have that.”
That proved to be a major financial hurdle for the track, which gets the vast majority of its revenue through ticket and concession sales. The track’s premier events, like Summer Showdown and the Galloway 150, had to be canceled because of the inability to provide a substantial purse. Hobbs said his workforce was slashed by about 200 employees.
Meanwhile, the racers were also forced to adjust, as teams were limited to five people in the pits, where physical-distancing measures were also implemented.
Nevertheless, Evergreen was able to put on weekly shows that were essentially equal to those from previous years, thanks to the combination of using revenue gains from 2019, assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program, and analyzing where costs could be controlled. Payouts to drivers stayed at 75% of normal throughout the season. While car counts were down slightly, Hobbs estimated that most classes were at about 90% of normal, and some classes were actually up. Hobbs also said there were no coronavirus cases traced back to the track.
Then there was the television deal, which proved to be a huge success. While the track was closed down it reached a deal with CW11 to broadcast taped versions of Evergreen’s weekly races. The track produced its own shows, which were broadcast a week later on Sunday evenings to an audience that reached the entire Puget Sound region and beyond. That gave the track a wider audience, and it provided exposure for car sponsors who lost in-person viewership.
“Yeah, I watch (the broadcasts) almost every time, just to see what mistakes I can clean up for the the next race,” said, Pro Late Models points champion Tyson Lang of Snohomish, summing up the driver sentiment of having the races broadcast.
Dean Poor, the creative services director at CW11, said the broadcasts had between 6,500 and 7,000 viewers each Sunday, adding that the broadcast sometimes was the market’s top broadcast in its time slot.
“The response has been truly amazing,” Poor said. “People are so excited. We don’t usually get that much email since a lot of what we air is syndicated programming. But people have been so appreciative of these broadcasts, to see some local sports in this year we’ve had. It’s really been gratifying for us to do, and Doug and Traci Hobbs have just been great partners, they work their tails off on that track of theirs, and to finally get on air and see good success with the broadcasts has really been a kick in the pants.”
The track and CW11 signed a three-year contract, meaning fans will continue to have the option of watching the races on television, even when spectators are allowed back at the track.
“It went extremely well,” Hobbs said of the broadcasts. “Even just our Facebook reach, the amount of people who would check in on Facebook went up almost 1,200% over normal. We were getting calls from Eastern Washington, and the broadcasts reached every province in Canada, so we were getting calls from people in Montreal or Saskatchewan saying they wanted to make the road trip to see the races — I had to remind them how far Washington is from Toronto.
“I think we’ll get more fans involved with the races being on TV,” Hobbs added.
So what does the future hold? No one knows what the situation will be with the pandemic come next March, when Evergreen’s 2021 season is set to begin. Hobbs is preparing to open to fans, in large part because while the track made it through 2020 without fans, that’s not financially sustainable.
“I would probably be speaking for 98% of race tracks when I say you can’t operate year after year with no fans or no income,” Hobbs said. “That model will not sustain racetracks — or any other form of entertainment — ever.”
But just making it through 2020, given the circumstances, was deemed a success.
“It was odd to be putting on these great races and shows that no one got to see live,” Hobbs said. “But it was good. It gave people something to do in what’s kind of a time of despair right now. I think it turned a negative into a positive, and I’m really proud of the team and everything we were able to accomplish this year.”