Terry and Nikki Brewer return to the helm after a challenging 2020
Exclusive story for AARN by Kenny Shupp Jr.
Photo by Robert Symonds
(Woodhull, NY) When Nikki and Terry Brewer purchased the historic Woodhull Raceway in January of 2020, little did they know what an uphill battle they were in for due to the COVID-19 19 Pandemic.
“When we bought the track from Ted and Brandi White, we had high hopes for a huge first year, stated Nikki Brewer in a recent interview. Terry and I had wanted to buy the track for several years and when we finally had the chance to take ownership, we went in with a rigorous game plan.”
Little did they nor did anyone else know that the worldwide Coronavirus would shake things up in a way that no one alive had ever seen before.
The Brewers were ready to hit the ground running when the spring of 2020 rolled around having spent countless hours working with current as well as new marketing partners along with Ted and Brandi White who had set up most of the 2020 race season schedule prior to the sale of the track. A mid-winter rules meeting was held in January and at the same time the new ownership was introduced to the drivers in attendance. All employees that wanted to stay were retained and everything was in place for an early spring opening.
The Annual Woodhull Raceway Arnot Mall Car Show had just completed in March when NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo dropped the axe and virtually closed all non-essential businesses which included Motorsports venues across the state.
“We were devastated to say the least. Here we had just purchased the place, had an aggressive schedule of events ready to go, partners all in place, staff on board and an excited group of racers and fans and then the bottom fell out. It was a tough pill to swallow, stated the Brewer’s.
Niki and Terry Brewer, like every other racetrack owner and promoter across the region were handcuffed. 2020 was one of the nicest Spring seasons Upstate New York had experienced in two decades with plenty of warm weather and little precipitation. Tracks in NY including Woodhull could have easily opened in March this year if they wanted, but with stringent guidelines laid down by both Cuomo and the NYS Health Department, racetracks were not allowed to open, period! In fact, if Motorsports facilities across the Empire State tried to open the ownerships risked huge fines and the threat of losing their liquor licenses and health department certificates.
Petitions were signed, drivers, fans and sponsors all chimed in on social media voicing their displeasure with the state’s criteria. The Brewer’s put together a concise, safe and bullet proof reopening plan which was presented to Empire State Development. With the Woodhull Raceways massive grandstand seating area social distancing would not be an issue. The track had the support of local and state elected officials, but it was all for naught. Cuomo and the State of NY would not budge and with that Terry and Niki Brewer along with every other track owner waited and waited and waited. It was around June 1 when the announcement was finally made allowing racetrack across the state to open, but with just one catch; no fans would be allowed into the grandstand seating area.
With the new criteria in place Nikki and Terry Brewer went to work figuring out a comprehensive plan on how to swing the gates open to cars, drivers and crew members and still pay a stout purse structure without the help of the front gate.
“We decided to run a couple weeks of just practice, stated Niki Brewer. We figured we would have a lot of support from the race teams as by this time everyone was anxious to get going”.
The track had already lost about eight weeks of our regular season and in New York it is a short growing season for racing. April and early May can be cold and wet. After Labor Day colder temperatures again roll in plus kids going back to school and school sports have big impact on fan attendance and car counts. Generally speaking, race venues need to wring as much as possible out of the spring and summer months to make it a successful year. With a late start Woodhull had to make every week count if the track was going to survive the season.
Fortunately for the Brewers along with every other track owner that took the gamble and opened in 2020 it turned out to be one of the driest summers on record with very few weekend rain storms other than the few occasional late afternoon/early evening showers which didn’t amount to much. Consequently, when racing did get rolling weather was not much of a factor thus Woodhull and others made up for lost ground.
“We were fortunate for the fact we didn’t lose hardly any shows once we got started with our regular schedule. A couple of late evening showers got us, but we were will into the program and had to run some make-ups, but overall weather wasn’t much of a problem,” stated the Brewer’s.
The real problem was no fans being allowed into the main grandstand seating area which had Nikki Brewer particularly miffed.
“I just don’t get it she exclaimed. Major store chains never missed a beat and, in many cases, set sales records. People were shoulder to shoulder in grocery and liquor stores, but anything to do with entertainment, restaurants and bars could not open. Made no sense to me. We pay taxes, employ people, provide a family environment and we had a very well thought out plan on how to keep fans safe form the spread of the virus and it’s all outside in the fresh air, but it did not matter. We had to play by the rules or risk losing everything.”
It should also be noted that the Brewer’s also own a successful restaurant/bar in Canisteo, NY, The Nikk L Brew is a local hot spot serving up great food with a friendly atmosphere. With that said they suffered a double whammy; no racing and no eat in dining and drinking. Fortunately, Terry Brewer has a successful trucking company with a fleet of road tractors and bulk milk tankers along with flatbed trailers. In addition, Niki Brewer has a career as an instructor at the Coopers Plains BOCES where she specializes in culinary arts. Thank goodness they had professional careers to fall back on or the problems could have been compounded even more.
“It was tough for several months. We couldn’t race and we couldn’t open the restaurant to eat in customers so, yes it was a struggle, but things eventually opened up and we got going again.”
When the track did open, they played host to huge car counts as one would expect. The racers were hungry and turned out in droves to support the new owners. Between pit admission and concession sales things started to fall in place, but without fans the Brewers like so many other promoters had to stick with regular weekly shows and forgo special events.
Keeping things basic was acceptable to the racers and it helped the Brewers get thru the season. By doing their part in helping curb the spread of the virus temperatures were taken on everyone entering the pit area and masks were mandatory. In addition, the track provided free viewing of all weekly races on the internet to keep their loyal fans in tune with what was going on.
According to the Brewer’s, “We provided this as a free service only asking those watching to donate if they could. It worked out well as thousands who would have been in attendance could catch the action live on Facebook.”
The track opted out of a pay per view deal feeling that the freebie service they were offering could only help many fans who were cash strapped due to the viruses’ implications.
Woodhull has one of the only Father/Son announce duos in the country in Jerry and Rob Symonds. Jerry has been a main stay at the track for six decades and has a wealth of knowledge. Son Rob is a computer expert and with his knowledge was able to handle the technical aspects to make the live feed work.
One thing the track ownership did that came as a complete surprise to everyone was at the end of the regular season, they gave out trophies and point money to all the weekly divisions. Nearly every driver in attendance at the awards affair thanked the Brewer’s for their generosity knowing full well that money was tight and without the help of any real 50/50 monies due to no fan base, well it came as a real shocker.
After a recent sit down with Terry and Nikki Brewer they laid out yet another aggressive agenda for the 2021 season with tentative plans calling for the Annual Arnot Mall Car Show in March. Traditionally Woodhull opens in mid-April for a week of practice prior to the season opener and that will once again be the case in the new year. They have a plan in place making it affordable for more partners to come on board at the track including numerous marketing packages.
“We are offering different sponsorship levels stated Niki Brewer. Woodhull currently has a very dedicated group of partners many of whom have been involved at the track for years. Many businesses have had a presence for decades. The pandemic had a big impact on virtually every business that we deal with. Everyone stuck with us last season and we hope they can all afford to return in 2021 and I am going to try enticing new sponsors to come onboard by offering packages that will fit any budget. With the free internet coverage that we provided last year it did allow us to continue promoting our marketing partners to the fans at home. It gave good exposure for the nightly sponsors.”
Woodhull will continue to stay with their eight main classes including the Mighty Open Modifieds along with a 602 Crate Sportsman Class with both divisions running on American Racer Tires. The 602 RUSH Crate Late Models continue to grow in numbers and will also be back in 2021. With travel at a minimum last season, Woodhull could boast its biggest Crate Late Model car counts since its inception. Many of the top guns in the series had to stay close to home last season due to COVID-19 restrictions making for super competitive action. The Street Stocks as well as the Front and Rear Wheel 4 Cylinder Mini Stocks will all be back. Woodhull runs the Front Wheel Drives separate from the Rear Wheel Drives with the latter being on the card for over 20 years. The Street Stocks or a similar form of competition have been at the track since George Williams built the place in the mid 1960’s. After being introduced a few seasons ago the Hobby Stock Division continues to grow in numbers with awesome competition. Many of the drivers in the Hobby Stock Class have come out of retirement forced their either by age or lack of funding. The Hobby Stock gives racers a chance to compete in a low buck class weather they are a veteran or a raw rookie. Finally, Woodhull Raceway can boast of a Youth Warrior Division for kids under fourteen years of age. The class was started in 1998 by then track owners, Scott and Amy Drake who incidentally are still at the facility working in various capacities. The feeling then as it still is today the kids are the future of this sport. Many have outgrown go-karting and are ready to step into a full fender race car. The class uses a 4 Cylinder Mini Stock for its young competitors and in many cases the same car is then raced by dad or a friend later in the regular 4 Cylinder Division.
With eight classes it sounds like a lot, however with a very experienced flagging crew led by head flagger, Tony VanPelt along with a dedicated scoring crew and a topnotch infield wrecker, fire and rescue team the show moves along. Terry Brewer handles the Race Director duties and when one checkered flag drops the next heat is already rolling out of the turn two pit exit onto the track. Raceceivers and Transponders in every car in every class also speed things up.
Woodhull still uses a draw/re-draw for all heat and feature lineups. However, there is a catch. When a driver wins a feature, he/she can start no better than twelfth the following week.
When drivers arrive and sign in at the pit shack they are greeted by Tom Newell. His friendly smile and handshake make all racers feel welcome. Newell has a wealth of knowledge in racing not only at Woodhull but all over the northeast and he is the eyes and ears behind the scenes each week at the historic Steuben County speed plant. Every track needs a Tom Newell. A simple “thank you for coming and good luck tonight” goes a long ways!
The Brewers have no real plans on making any earth-shaking changes to a program that has withstood the test of time. The schedule when it is released will show a return of the Short Track Super Series along with the 360 Sprints, however like last season any and all touring groups participation at the track all hinges on whether New York relaxes the current protocol and lets fans back in. Without butts in the bleachers it is not feasible to host high dollar purses incorporated with outside touring groups.
“We are hoping that with the vaccine coming out it will help turn the tide on COVID-19. We are remaining optimistic about opening to fans when the new season starts, claimed the Brewer’s. The state still has a stranglehold on a lot of activities especially anything with gatherings either inside or outside. We are keeping hope that a lot will happen for the better between now and April so we can get back to some normalcy. We can handle the social distancing and masks and we have enough staff to enforce the rules.”
It is anticipated the 2021 Woodhull Raceway Schedule of Events will be released sometime after the first of the new year and will be posted on the tracks web site at www.woodhullraceway.com.
As new developments arise along with any other news worthy items pertaining to the track they will be posted on the Facebook at www.Facebook.com/WoodhullRaceway.
In closing Terry and Niki Brewer are only the fifth owners of the historic Woodhull Raceway. With his two sons, Jim and Bob and his two hands, George Williams built the track on his family owned farmland in the mid-1960’s. What makes George Williams so unique is that he was in his middle 60’s when he decided to build the facility. Scott and Amy Drake took ownership in 1998 and sold to Jersey Shore, Pa businessman, Vern Wasson in 2005. After a five- year run Wasson sold the High Banked one third of a Mile clay oval to Ted and Brandi White who finished out a decade run then they sold the Woodhull Raceway to its current ownership.
Not a lot has changed at the Woodhull Raceway over the past 56 or so years. The high banks are still there along with paper clip design. Jim Williams always referred to the track as “Having Fun in the Boonies”! A phrase that still sticks today as Woodhull is in a rural country setting in the southernmost part of Steuben County, NY. Even though its location is basically 25 miles from places like Corning, Bath, Hornell and Wellsboro, Pa. fans and drivers come from all locations to enjoy the competition. Many fans have reserved the same seats for decades and most teams in the pit area have their own favorite spots to park. Entry prices are fair, food is good and there is no alcohol served. It’s a BYO deal in non-glass containers. Coolers are inspected at the main gate upon entry.
“We struggled thru 2020 and we are glad its behind us, stated Niki and Terry Brewer. We are going to stay with a program that has made the track what it is today with very few changes going forward. We want to make cosmetic improvements around the facility, but we will address that when cash flow stabilizes. All our thirty-two seasonal towers are rented and we are currently working on re-upping sponsors and bringing in some new blood for 2021. We are extremely grateful for all the support we did receive last year.”
Thank you to Kenny Shupp for sharing the article with us! See you in 2021!