What a difference a year makes.
It’s something Mississippi Thunder Speedway owner Bob Timm and track promoter Tyrone Lingenfelter have been telling each other over the course of the past few weeks.
At this time last year, they were wondering if they were going to have a season at all because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they are ready for perhaps the speedway’s biggest summer yet.
“A year ago at this time, we weren’t even sure if we were going to race, because everything that was going on,” Lingenfelter said. “It’s funny, you sit here and get your Facebook memories all the time, you look back at some of the posts that we’ve had about this time last year and a lot of it was, ‘Hey we’re working on racing, but we don’t know when it’s going to be.’ … But we had a super successful year last year, and now it seems like the momentum just keeps going.”
Despite an unprecedented summer, the track capitalized being one of the few shows in town. They worked closely with Buffalo County health officials and the Town of Milton to develop a plan, and the season went on without a hitch with all of the races going on as scheduled. It ended up being a record-breaking season with new highs in attendance and driver participation.
“Obviously, any sports event in an outdoor venue had an upper hand during the pandemic,” Timm said. “I think all of us tried to take advantage of that. … I feel very fortunate to be in an area that we are in. The community has just been unbelievably supportive, so supportive of what we do. Without that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing.”
There are no attendance restrictions this year, but MTS will continue to work hand-in-hand with health officials, while promoting social distancing.
“Everything went well last year with Buffalo County, and the health department was happy with everything we did,” Lingenfelter said. “Obviously, if there’s any customer that wants to wear masks and stuff like that they can definitely do that, but there’s nothing mandated — as far as we know — when it comes to restrictions.”
That’s more than good news, as the track is excited to fill its new metal bleachers — a project that was in the works for the past few years but was given the go-ahead over the winter after the successful summer. The new bleachers replace smaller wooden ones along Turn 1 and extend as high as the VIP suites. It jumps the track’s capacity from 1,500 to 4,000 and offers a view that few dirt tracks can. Fans will get their first taste of those bleachers when the season kicks off Friday with the 13th Annual Season Opener.
“It turned out really well,” Timm said. “I think everybody that sits there is going to have probably a better view than any other seating you had in the past. For those more casual-type fans, it’s more accommodating. You’ll find a little bit cleaner of a seat and be a little further back. Plus, it gives it more of a stadium effect feel when you walk in there, which makes it pretty cool.”
And if you can’t make it to the track that weekend, you can stream it.
The races will once again be broadcasted through RacinDirtTV, like they were last year. Only this time, every race weekend — outside of May 7 and 8 — will be streamed through RacinDirtTV, just another sign of the continued growth of the sport.
“There are now people that I never really thought were that involved with racing that are now coming up and like, ‘I can’t wait for that event or that’d be really cool to see them come to the area,’” Lingenfelter said. “I think there’s a lot of people that now understand that’s a big deal, because it brings a lot of exposure — not just for the racetrack, but for the entire community.”
Of course, that big event that has the chance to really put Fountain City and the dirt track on the map as one of the sports favorite destinations comes May 7 and 8. That’s when the famous World of Outlaws Late Model series comes to town for the first time as part of an event that has been named the Dairyland Showdown. Often referred to as the “NASCAR of dirt track racing,” with their calling card being “the most powerful cars on dirt,” the World of Outlaws has a TV contract with CBS Sports Network and also consistently on DIRTVision.
They are the best of the best.
“When they come to town it’s like having a big rock concert,” Lingenfelter said. “They’re rock stars.”
The purse for that two-day event? An eye-popping $160,000.
For Timm and company, it’s a testament to how the track has become one of the premier destinations for the sport.
“It’s a big undertaking, obviously it’s a huge risk,” Timm said. “Anytime you’re making that kind of a payout, there’s a lot of risk involved. It’s been a dream of mine, since we bought it, to be able to bring that kind of a sporting event to this area. It’s taken, this is my 13th year, the entire time to get the facility and get the reputation that’s needed for a touring series of this size and magnitude to be willing to take a chance and have an event at our place.
“… It’s kind of humbling. It’s an honor that they have enough faith in us to bring their series here, because they have a certain level of showmanship that they like to put on. It’s a sense of accomplishment for Tyrone and myself to get to that level.”
Tickets can be bought up until May 1 and ordered at mississippithunder.com.
The hope is that the event will be such a success that the World of Outlaws will continue to come back and make it a yearly tradition. A big boost for not only the track, but for the community as well.
“It’s one of the series that comes here that you have actually have people doing this for a living,” Timm said. “It has big corporate sponsorship. Some of their events are broadcast live on CBS. The natural next step for us is to put on an event that they look at next year and say, ‘You know what, this is one we want to have on TV.’ For this area to get national television exposure, because of our facility, I think would be pretty cool.”