INSIGHT: Thanksgiving came early for Crandon

Jason Zindrowski

INSIGHT: Thanksgiving came early for Crandon

It was a week ago exactly that the roar of 900 horsepower engines went silent at Crandon International Raceway. Defending Crandon Cup champion R.J. Anderson showed the short-course world how to get it done again, the talented Californian taking the weekend’s big finale and making it two years in a row in his South Point/Polaris/BFGoodrich-backed Pro 4.

Suddenly a weekend filled with 26 races took its curtain call. It was quiet, but you could hear the collective exhale from racers, fans and track officials.

I was one of them.

RACER readers may or may not know a majority of my yearly working time is spent as the promoter for Crandon International Raceway and the annual Crandon World Cup. I cherish the role, and am honored that I can help the good folks of this tiny Wisconsin hamlet continue a legacy that began over five decades ago. For me, it’s like getting the keys to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I treat Crandon with the same level of respect and gratitude to spend a different national holiday weekend in America’s heartland.

Truth be told, I was a duck on water this summer. Calm and collected on top, feet churning to stay afloat below.

Last year it was Crandon’s massive 50th anniversary along with a last-minute role of promoting our Kid Rock concert on the Friday of race weekend. By comparison, coming into this race season looked mild.

This is not the year to be an event promoter of any kind. It’s a job that is tough and at times overwhelming even in the best of circumstances. Since March, our loyal fans watched and waited to see if their annual Labor Day tradition would happen, as did drivers, teams and our corporate partners. Thanks to the sparkling examples of 2020 leadership set forth by our colleagues at Wisconsin’s Road America, the Carlson family at Minnesota’s ERX Motor Park and the new Champ Off-Road series we pushed onward, pausing only to reschedule our June Brush Run season opener to later this September.

While COVID-19 protocols made for a slightly different experience off the track, the business end of the weekend looked a lot more familiar, with R.J. Anderson backing up his 2019 win in the main event. Image by Jason Zindrowski

The time normally spent on a litany of sponsorship, branding, promotional and PR details was instead absorbed by COVID protocols and constant updates with local and county health officials. We traded onsite construction for installation of warning signs, plexiglass shields and hand sanitizing station. Our wonderful core of community volunteers, many of them older, was reduced in size, so we added new cash machines for concession tickets and eliminated things like event programs and our traditional evening concerts.

Unsure how the fanbase would respond, we also concentrated on bringing the 51st Polaris World Championship Off-Road Races and especially the Crandon World Cup to the world via a massive livestream program that featured multiple network platforms like, Speed Sport TV, Polaris and Ultra 4. Even racing veteran but Crandon virgin Ralph Sheheen was enticed to make the trek and host the World Cup coverage.

The goal? To ensure our all-important supporters like Polaris, Yokohama, Vision Wheel and others would have no issue justifying their commitment to the sport’s most significant race weekend and facility. Happily, all of those companies rewarded our perseverance with their enthusiastic support, albeit some being forced to make those decisions at the final hours. Welcome to 2020.

Whatever the show would look like, it had to go on.

In the end, those gut-wrenching concerns were as fleeting as our supply of cheese curds. Three days before we opened the gates to Camp Crandon, all 2,100 grass camping spots were sold out. By design, we didn’t spend a dime on pre-race advertising sans a few social media posts. Crandon is blessed to have hosted generations of fans come each year as their kick-off to fall, and this was not the year they would change tradition.

On the morning of World Cup Sunday, off-road racing legend and famed storyteller Curt LeDuc looked at me and said, “We all need to feel blessed for this weekend. So does everyone at Crandon. This is your Thanksgiving Day a few months early.”

Later that day, Curt led a toast to the thousands of fans getting ready for the Crandon Cup finale race and the massive audience watching the live stream. It was so appropriate in so many ways, especially when he led them in a standing rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” Almost every fan participated.

For just a few pride-filled moments, the world felt normal again. Not the new normal, just normal. And for that, we all gave thanks.

MX-5 Cup | Round 6 – Mid-Ohio