FROST: Help For Racing’s Small Businesses

Tim Frost

WILMETTE, Ill. — The new year and how the motorsports industry continues to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and financial burdens related to it — will most certainly impact the industry for many years to come.

This month, we will examine some segments of the industry and see how they will proceed during this extended period of uncertainty.

The 2020 racing season started in a manner similar to previous years, but the action was soon interrupted.  Plans were stalled and went into lengthy holding patterns. Many racing organizations saw abbreviated activity with less than meaningful results.

The sports and entertainment sectors were one of the most severely affected during the shutdown. Large-scale gatherings were considered higher risk due to human interaction and the possibility of community transmission.

State and local health officials worked with businesses to develop guide­lines for maintaining healthy environments. These included rules on cleaning and disinfection, restrooms, ventilation, water systems, facility layouts, physical barriers, communal spaces and food service.

Government and municipal authorities ultimately have the final say regarding restrictions.  Depending on the location, a centralized or decentralized structure has often led to greater confusion.

Federal aid programs were created to assist entities on several fronts.  These included the Paycheck Protection Program, employee assistance grants, economic injury disaster loans and pandemic unemployment compensation. There were also direct federal stimulus checks to taxpayers.

The business assistance initiatives were designed to help with meeting payroll and keeping money flowing to employees. These loans were forgivable based on certain criteria.

Many racing businesses including teams and manufacturers participated in these programs.

The initial round of funding, which totaled $2 trillion, was part of the CARES Act that was passed in March.

The second relief bill will be $900 billion and includes enhanced unemployment benefits and direct cash payments. Signed in December 2020 and smaller than the previous program, it is the second largest relief program in history.

The initial stimulus was passed and put into action shortly after the nationwide shutdown.

During the next nine months, it came into focus which industries were more directly impacted by the pandemic and entertainment was near the top of that list.

These groups organized and came together under the “independent venue” label and mounted a comprehensive lobbying effort.

The result was a $15 billion program for live venues, theaters and museum operators known as Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators.

The Small Business Administration is overseeing the application process for the federal government. Individual states such as Michigan have a “Stages Survival” program.

This initial consideration will be for operators that have lost at least 90 percent of their revenue. The first grants will be for up to $10 million, followed by a second round equaling about half the initial amount.

The money can be spent on payroll, rent, utilities and personal protection equipment. There are details on who is not eligible or covered by the program (publicly traded, corporate acquisitions, etc.).

The wording features the term “live event promoter.” Race tracks are not specifically named in the text of the bill.

However, they meet many of the criteria. Most are located in rural communities and leased from nonprofit fairgrounds. Tracks are small business owned and operated by families. They sell tickets and food to generate the majority of their revenue. Participants are paid prize money to race each week.

The goal is for race tracks to qualify and participate in these programs. This infusion of cash into independent venues would provide them a short-term boost needed to reopen after the pandemic ends.