TRENTON, N.J. – The Atlantic City NAPA Auto Parts race weekend has officially become the fourth and final COVID-19 victim of the Indoor Auto Racing Championship Series fueled by VP Racing Fuels season.
The 19th annual event promoted by Len Sammons inside Boardwalk Hall had originally been planned for Jan. 29-30.
The race weekend was then postponed a month to the end of February in hopes that conditions would improve and restrictions be loosened allowing the event to held. However, strict New Jersey State gathering restrictions have remained in place for large seating indoor arenas.
While a recent trend of improving COVID-19 cases and a growing number of vaccinations gives hope for the future, it has come too late to salvage the Indoor Auto Racing Championship Series fueled by VP in 2021.
“It’s with great regret that we canceled the fourth and final scheduled race on our indoor series this year because of the virus,” said Len Sammons, who brought the return of indoor racing to Atlantic City in 2003 when Canadian Andy Mackereth won the first ‘Gambler’s Classic’.
On Friday, just two days before the NFL Super Bowl, Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans loosen gathering limits, however the new restrictions still do not allow an event the magnitude of the Indoor Races to be held.
“We have been waiting and hoping for conditions to improve to a point that the Governor would feel comfortable relaxing restrictions. On Wednesday when it was announced that restrictions would be lifted we were hopeful that the event could be a possibility, but unfortunately we aren’t there yet.”
The latest guidelines call for slightly relaxed indoor restrictions in New Jersey by increasing capacity limits from 25 percent up to 35 percent for indoor dining and other businesses, while allowing restaurants to stay open past 10 p.m.
The Governor, however, did not remove or lessen a cap on the indoor gathering size which remains at 150 people. Despite the size of Boardwalk Hall and the adjoining West Hall where the pit area is set, that’s simply not enough allowed into the buildings to present a race no less allow spectators to attend.
Atlantic City now joins previously cancelled concrete events featuring the TQ Midgets, Slingshots and Champ Karts in Allentown, PA’s PPL Center and the New York State Fairgrounds Exposition Center in Syracuse. The East Coast Indoor Dirt Nationals scheduled for Feb. 19-20 at the CURE Insurance Arena was also a victim of the gathering restrictions.
Dates for all four ventures will be announced in the coming weeks. They are expected to be on the same, or close to the same, weekends as planned in 2021.
The pandemic hit in March of 2020 after the indoor racetrack at the New York State Fairgrounds Exposition Center had been built. The closure of the Fairgrounds was announced 24 hours before racing was scheduled to begin that Friday night and it has yet to open.
“I feel so bad for our dedicated racers, our staff that take such great pride in presenting the event and most of all our loyal fans who support the Indoor Racing Series,” said Sammons.
“I can guarantee you we will all work hard to make our return to Indoor Racing bigger and better than ever in 2022. Our racers will be more eager than ever to bring home a win, if that’s possible, and the staff of each of the venues has been working during their dark times to make building improvements.”
Indoor racing in Atlantic City, N.J., was scheduled to make its debut under the promotion of George Stockinger on Saturday, Jan. 16, 1965 but a blizzard snow storm forced its cancellation. A week later, however, the event was held and Dick DeYoung became the first TQ Midget winner there.
Stockinger’s promotion of Atlantic City events came to an end when Nick Fornoro Jr. was the race winner on Feb. 1, 1981.
Under Sammons leadership racing returned 22 years later and had been held annually until this year’s event. Andy Jankowiak was the most recent winner in 2020.
“I am dying with all of the AC memories popping up on my feed right now. Can’t wait to get back at it,” said Jankowiak, the 2020 Indoor Auto Racing Series champion as well, last week, a time he should have been spending in Atlantic City.