Brittany Force sets world record at Maple Grove

Brittany Force, front, holds off the challenge of Leah Pritchett to become top qualifier in Top Fuel Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Maple Grove.

The NHRA and Maple Grove Raceway on Monday announced the cancellation of the 2020 Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals, dealing another major economic blow to Berks County due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 36th annual event featuring the world's fastest drag racers was scheduled for Sept. 12 and Sept. 13. It already had been trimmed from three days to two when the NHRA revised its schedule earlier this summer.

"We are extremely disappointed to announce the cancellation of the September national event, which has been a staple event for the past 35 years," Maple Grove Raceway president Kent Lewis said in a press release. "Due to the pandemic, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has severely limited attendance at events for the 2020 season."

It also was disappointing news for Crystal Seitz, president of the Pennsylvania's Americana Region Visitors Bureau, who estimated the event brings in $1.5 million to $2 million to the region each year.

"This is one of the few events that fills up all the hotels throughout Berks County," said Seitz, who noted some drivers and fans even stay in nearby Chester and Lancaster counties. "It's one of those things we rely on every year to bring a major impact to Berks County."

Thousands of fans attend the event each fall at Maple Grove Raceway in Brecknock Township. The state has limited outdoor gatherings to 250 people to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike other motor sports such as NASCAR and IndyCar, the NHRA has said it doesn't have the lucrative television contracts to make if economically feasible to hold events with few or no fans.

The Maple Grove cancellation will have a major impact on restaurants and other businesses throughout the area, Seitz said.

"They (race fans and participants) spend a lot of time and money in our community," Seitz said. "Maple Grove is one of the jewels of tourism in Berks County, and this event is the crown jewel at Maple Grove."

This is the latest in a series of Berks events to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to major repercussions on local businesses. Others include the Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest, the Reading Radsport bicycle races and the Jehovah Witness conventions at Santander Arena.

The NHRA held two events prior to the pandemic and has held two races since returning on July 18, both in Indianapolis. The next race, the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals, also is scheduled for Indianapolis on Sept. 3-6.

Others races are still scheduled for Concord, N.C.; Gainesville, Fla.; St. Louis; Bristol, Tenn.; Ennis, Texas; Las Vegas; and the final in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 13-15.

The NHRA is still trying to reschedule events in Denver; Brainerd, Minn.; and Topeka, Kan.

Earlier, John Force Racing, one of the most popular NHRA teams, closed operations for the 2020 season for financial reasons. The team consists of 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, three-time Funny Car champ and reigning champion Robert Hight, 2017 Top Fuel champion Brittany Force and Top Fuel driver Austin Prock.

"We are grateful for the loyal NHRA fans who have stuck with us during these trying times," NHRA president Glen Cromwell said is a press release. "NHRA expects to move forward with the remainder of the 2020 schedule."

Maple Grove Raceway is asking ticket holders for the 2020 Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals to email bwitmer@maplegroveraceway.com or call 610-856-9200.

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