The COVID-19 pandemic literally brought life to a halt, with government lockdowns and restrictions that were put in place around the world. Since large gatherings were banned the 2020 drag racing season never really had a chance to start — particularly for those in the northern states — and many questioned if it would ever get the opportunity. Things have thankfully changed, and now tracks like National Trail Raceway can finally begin to send cars down the drag strip once again.
National Trail Raceway has been in operation since 1964 and has been a staple in the drag racing world ever since. The track hosted the NHRA Spring Nationals for 34 years and still has a major divisional race each year. There are countless racers who have made laps at the track and it continues to hold big events to this day, but COVID-19 nearly brought all of that to a halt.
Jason Murray and Jay Livingston have owned the facility for two years, and during that time they’ve been working hard on making big improvements. They planned on making even more strides towards bringing the track back to its former glory until the pandemic stepped in.
“As soon as things started to unfold we had to shut down just like any other non-essential business. Back at the beginning of May when they began to open things back up we sent a proposal to Licking County on May 4 to see if we could open. The county told us they would take a look at it and take it to the state for review. On May 5 they came back to us and said we weren’t allowed to open. We asked the county for a timeframe or idea of when we could open, and they said they really didn’t have one based on the information they were getting from the state,” Murray explains.
Things were not looking good for National Trail at this point, with no clear path to opening for the season. Before Memorial Day weekend there were other tracks in Ohio getting permission to have events, so Murray reached out to the county to see if opening National Trail Raceway was in the cards. They were denied again, however, Murray did hear that other counties were classifying race tracks as something other than sports venues, and that was the break they needed.
Murray called the county yet again to see if the restrictions could be lifted — this time the county asked for a fresh proposal to see if the track could open. Thankfully, the county liked what they saw and gave the green light.
“We opened up and had one weekend of testing, right after that we called the county to see if more restrictions could be lifted. The county asked for another proposal to remove the restrictions and they agreed to what we sent in. Now, we’re back to racing at a level that allows us to open up without limiting the car count or crew members, but we still can’t have spectators. We’re hoping to change the spectator restriction soon so we can have big events. Right now, we don’t know what kinds of restrictions those events will have, but we’re just happy to have the opportunity to have any spectators here to build the track back to what it should be,” Murray says.
Dealing with the uncertainty of opening for the year has been difficult for the staff at National Trail Raceway. If the track wasn’t able to open this year it’s hard to say if it would have survived and been able to welcome racers back in 2021.
“The emotional side of seeing other tracks open up has been hard for us. Both myself and Jay had a lot of long nights trying to figure out what we were going to do. We had to think about what would happen if we could never open up — it was really hard. Luckily, we did get to open and the racers have been very supportive so far. Racers have come out in droves and from places all over to support not only our track but others that have opened up, as well. The bracket racers are trying to visit all of the local tracks to support them throughout this deal,” Murray explains.
Now that racing has resumed, Murray and the team at National Trail Raceway are looking forward to what the rest of their season will look like. Due to the uncertainty of when they can have spectators on the property, the decision was made to move the facility’s Night Of Thunder event from June until the end of August.
“Right now our plan is really dependent on what the state and county tell us we can do. Each week we go to the county and see what we can do to add to the number of people allowed on the property. National Trail Raceway is a 230-acre facility so we can easily enforce the social distancing. The government wants to make sure groups of 10 stay six feet apart and that’s pretty easy at a track like this because you have the trailers and everything else. Our plan is to hopefully be fully open soon since the state is allowing amusement parks to open up by the end of the month,” Murray says.