Experienced Willowbank Raceway operations manager Harry Rowsell is keen to ensure drag racing resumes as safely as possible. Picture: Rob Williams
Experienced Willowbank Raceway operations manager Harry Rowsell is keen to ensure drag racing resumes as safely as possible. Picture: Rob Williams

Raceway roaring back to life - under tight controls

WILLOWBANK Raceway operations manager Harry Rowsell knows how crucial this weekend's return drag racing event is.

Given how much effort has gone into meeting the COVID Safe Plan, Rowsell said Saturday's IHRA licence holders test day will shape the sport's future.

"We've had to jump through a few hoops with respect to compliance,'' the long-serving official said.

"We've finally got that through and this is like our first toe in the water under the new COVID conditions.''

Willowbank Raceway comes under the Queensland Government industry compliance standards in place for outdoor sporting venues.

The last time cars were on the track at Willowbank Raceway was March 7.

With no spectators allowed in the immediate future, the focus this weekend is on providing a safe environment for a capped number of people allowed to attend.

"For us, we've got definite rules on how we bring the competitors in,'' Rowsell said.

"The social distancing within the pits. The fact that the teams can't mix with other teams.

"We've got having to compliance side with cleaning facilities.''

With only four permanent staff remaining under a rotation system, a contract cleaner was needed to maintain sanitising requirements for the day.

"What it's also done - and this is not a complaint at all - we've had to bolster our staffing levels that we normally run for these, and that's just to be compliant.

"There's no issues from our part with it. It's just a new path . . . to see how we do.''

 

Willowbank Raceway operations manager Harry Rowsell. Picture: Rob Williams
Willowbank Raceway operations manager Harry Rowsell. Picture: Rob Williams

Rowsell, 66, has been involved with the not-for-profit organisation since the Winternationals in 1991. He started as a volunteer.

He has been operations manager since 2017 in his second major stint with the Raceway.

He works closely with managers Tracey Fletcher and Jacqui Thomas.

"Because of our size, our structure, we all crossover with each other, so it's been quite collaborative among three of us,'' Rowsell said.

"We've had to use the time to learn the direction that COVID is pushing us and getting some form of instruction that we can understand and follow. That's been a challenge.''

The Raceway's dedicated team of staff and helpers will be crucial in coming months, working with the voluntary board to continue meeting COVID standards.

"We're expecting to be inspected throughout the day,'' Rowsell said, preparing for the weekend.

"If we are, I'll use those inspections as a learning - what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong and just work with it from there.''

After Saturday's Racer Test Day, Raceway officials hope to host a double-header Racer Test Day on July 4. That will feature licenced racers and a Test & Tune event for off-street participants.

"At some point within the next couple of weeks all going well, we need to open that up to start getting those street guys back,'' he said.

Rowsell said the Queensland Drag Racing Championships, for sportsman level competition, were scheduled for July 11, subject to the easing of State Government Level 3 sporting restrictions.

Other proposed upcoming events include Kenda 660 Radial test days on July 17 and 18.

A street series could return on July 25.

"All events will be conducted with strict measures as required by the COVID Safe Plan,'' Rowsell said.

When spectators can return will depend on State Government decisions in the future.

"That, for us, will be a whole new sit down and plan,'' the operations manager said, aware of the extra requirements needed.

"We'll have to comply somehow with what the written word will be.''

Rowsell and his management team thanked racers, sponsors, volunteers and spectators for their support and patience during the lockdown period.



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