Jim Halsey’s life is practically consumed by drag racing. He and Cathy Crouse, his girlfriend of over 30 years, own and operate Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland. Around a dozen weekends a year, they also run Halsey’s Brandon Switzer-tuned, Fulton-powered ’68 Camaro in PDRA Pro Nitrous and outlaw Pro Modified events along the East Coast.
Halsey was preparing to defend his 2019 PDRA Pro Nitrous world championship when the COVID-19 public health crisis sent the racing world – and the world in general – into a shutdown. The one bright side to the extended offseason was the additional time it gave Halsey to focus on adapting to Maryland’s ever-changing guidelines for reopening.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #157, the Interview Issue, in June of 2020.]
A few days after Halsey opened the 2020 PDRA season with a No. 1 qualifying effort and semifinal finish at the East Coast Nationals, the veteran nitrous Pro Modified racer spoke with Drag Illustrated about the challenges he’s faced as a track operator, as well as how he’s looking at the season as racer.
In dealing with all the regulations as a result of COVID, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while trying to reopen and start getting back to normal operations?
The biggest challenge for me was getting a game plan together, thinking you’re operating within your provided guidelines, then at the last minute getting the rug pulled out from under you. That happened to me several times. The governor would post our regulations, then we’d spend a couple days coming up with a plan to stay within those regulations. The county would step in, or the governor would change the guidelines.
What’s the current status there?
We are allowed to have racers and crew only. We’re limited by physical distancing. No more than 10 people to a race team. They’re supposed to stay in their pits with each other. We keep them apart in the staging lanes. Hand sanitizer throughout the facility. We have designated people for restroom cleaning, which we did that anyway. We’re also keeping an eye on the starting line and keeping it clear of big crowds.
How has this situation forced you to make changes as a track operator?
Not allowing us to have spectators right now kind of hurts programs. As far as the racer side of things, we’ve had to change pricing to cover costs and it costs the racer more. Once we get to where we can open up 100 percent, those costs will go back to normal.
One thing I did do is we usually don’t do live feeds for our Street Car Shootout events, but this past weekend at the last minute we put together a pay-per-view live feed that was about half the cost of what the general admission would be to allow spectators to watch some racing.
What was your takeaway from that?
It was received positively. We didn’t get the sales that we were hoping for, but with a last-minute program put together like that, that’s not surprising.
Do you plan to continue that for future events this year?
The ones that would attract more spectators, we are planning on doing it. Unless we get permission to open up to spectators. As soon as we do that, we’ll play it by ear.
[Editor’s note: a few days after this interview, Halsey announced Cecil County Dragway was given permission to allow spectators.]
This is your Pro Nitrous championship defense season. What’s it been like going from a dominant year to now having to wait until late May to start the PDRA season at GALOT Motorsports Park?
To be honest with you, we were spoiled. We had such a good year last year. We lost in the semifinal at GALOT because of a loose fuel line. We had a fast car. That was like a reality check for us. We were very anxious to get back to racing.
After setting records, winning races and securing your first major series championship last year, where does that leave you for 2020 as far as your goals?
Repeat. Defend our title.