MOUNT VERNON — It may be an extended offseason, but Pacemaker’s Dragway Park owner/operator Rod Zolman may just be the busiest man in town.
After weathering torrential rain last year, Zolman is getting hit with a double whammy this year — more rain and the rescheduling of events planned for the 2020 season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that Zolman expects Pacemaker’s to open up its doors for its 65th season of racing. The only problem is nobody is certain when that’s going to begin. Expecting another rainy spring, Zolman wasn’t expecting to start the racing season until the end of April, anyway. COVID-19, however, may push that date back further.
“We were looking to open up for testing in the last week of April, but realistically, it’s looking like it could be May or even be later than that, if things don’t straighten up here fairly soon,” Zolman said. “We’re just keeping an eye on things. We get a little guidance from NHRA. They’ve canceled some of their national events and that’s a much larger magnitude of the situation. It involves travel and hotels, so it’s a bit different from local tracks like ours.”
With the coronavirus shutdown affecting businesses everywhere, sponsorship money could become a bigger worry than usual, if the start date for the racing season at Pacemaker’s gets pushed back too far.
“We’re hoping that things come back online in a few weeks, but like everybody else, we just don’t know,” Zolman said. “I think that when they do start up again, people will be stir crazy from being stuck indoors and we’ll probably be really busy. Everybody’s chomping at the bit. For now, people are spending more time in the garage, working on their cars and practicing social distancing.”
In the meantime, Zolman is staying in contact with area racers, keeping them up-to-date via internet video.
“Right now we’re trying to raise enough funds to do some patching of the pits. By the time the weather breaks will have a fresh coat of paint on just about everything. There are people helping us out with some landscaping and some of those other sweat-equity things.”
Racing fans will be glad to know that the popular ice cream parlor will be back. The extra time will allow the building to be drywalled and finished out. There will be a ‘Bring a Friend to the Track Night’, where racers will be tickets good for a free evening of racing to be handed out to family and friends. Also back will be Power Wheels racing which attracted whole families — especially parents and grandparents.
“It will definitely back for six or seven events,” Zolman said. “That’s our little baby. It has taken root and it has become popular across the country, and we were one of the first to do it.”
One of the changes that Zolman has initiated, is the introduction of an advisory board. He not only expects to get more great ideas to expand what Pacemaker’s has to offer, but he also hopes that it will give Pacemaker’s a stronger and more permanent community presence.
“I’ve got two or three racers from different types of racing,” Zolman said. “That way, all of them are represented in our advisory meetings. Some are racers that are also business owners. Others own a business, but don’t race. Everybody has their own ideas and connection and they can get so-and-so from this or that company. He might be able to help us with this or that. The different racers can voice their concerns.”
The advisory board includes Columbus business owners Jeff and Erica Green, realtor Becky Payne and her husband and long-time racer Matt Payne. Also on the board are local racers Jeff Ruderick and Roger Ball; Sunbury racers and business owners Sean and Davis Graham; Linn and Cole Bebout, business owners and racers from Mount Vernon; and Mark Case from Columbus. Also, Chris Gabrelcik, Hot Shot’s Secret CEO and founder is on the board, along with business owner and driver Bob McVey.
Zolman is working through his advisory group to set up another charity race like the Knox Grudge Race, which Pacemaker’s hosted and which benefitted Knox Community Hospital Foundation. With the help of the advisory board, he hopes to do more charitable events. For now, the schedule is up in the air. The picture will clear up, when the coronavirus has been brought under control.
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