SUPERCARS will be "back on the calendar" in Newcastle, the sport's chief executive Sean Seamer vowed yesterday.
As the Newcastle Heraldreported on Saturday, the Newcastle and Gold Coast legs of the Supercars series were dropped from the shortened season announced yesterday, with the sport aiming to resume racing next month after shutting down because of coronavirus.
Fans were yesterday lamenting the loss of the race, while understanding why it had been dropped from this year's program.
Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the loss of the event and "tens of thousands" of overnight bookings was devastating for accommodation and hospitality providers who were already under pressure because of COVID-19.
Cr Nelmes pointed to a Hunter Research Foundation that said the race generated $30 million a year in Newcastle alone, a figure that would be higher if the surrounding areas of Lake Macquarie, Maitland/Cessnock and Port Stephens were included.
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Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock said Supercars was "an amazing event for the region" and the influx of visitors gave the airport and the tourism economy one of their biggest weekends of the year.
The Newcastle East Residents Group, which has spearheaded opposition to what it sees as "a nine-week invasion" of the residential area, is rejoicing at a year without high-decibel noise and says it hopes the planned one-year hiatus becomes permanent.
Supercars usually runs a 15-race calendar based around three-day events and this year's schedule was to have finished with the Newcastle 500 on December 4 ,5 and 6.
Coronavirus shut the season down after the opening February race and the revised 2020 competition will have 11 more races, mostly over two-day weekends, starting in Sydney on June 27-28 and finishing in February 2021 in Bathurst.
Mr Seamer said losing Newcastle and the Gold Coast "were very difficult decisions for us".
"They are marquee events as part of the Supercars culture as well as the championship," Mr Seamer said.
Newcastle and the Gold Coast are full street circuits, and Mr Seamer said it was decided after consultations with the NSW and Queensland governments and the relevant local councils that it was better to focus on "dedicated race tracks" where the coronavirus medical constraints could be more easily managed.
"As restrictions improve and life gets back to what they're calling a new normal, we will be able to consider everything again," Mr Seamer said.
"This calendar is about getting this championship away and getting back to racing as soon as possible.
"There is only a limited amount of time we have to deliver the events and obviously we have to factor in wet seasons and other activities that are going on.
"They'll [Gold Coast and Newcastle] be back on the calendar."
The Newcastle Supercars Supporters Club Facebook page had heavy traffic yesterday as fans mourned the loss of the race.
"This is very sad news as we know tens of thousands of people were looking forward to attending this event, as well and thousands who enjoy volunteering," site administrators said.
"While this is disappointing, it was understandably difficult for Supercars to be able to make any concrete commitments towards street racing with the uncertainty around social distancing government restrictions."
Maitland councillor Mitchell Griffin, an administrator of the supporters club site, said it had been started before the first Newcastle 500 in 2017.
It had 15,000 followers and provided a voice for fans.
A number of race enthusiasts wondered why Townsville was kept, as they regarded it as a street track like Newcastle, but others pointed out that it was a hybrid track with a dedicated racing section and like Bathurst, with permanent pits, was an easier layout as far as distancing spectators was concerned.
Another Supercars supporters club administrator, Darin Welsh, of Singleton, said he understood the complaints of residents but said the race was playing a major role in promoting the city.
"There's not a chance it won't come back," Mr Welsh said.
"It's such a successful event, it gets great crowds and while it mightn't be the greatest track for racing as far as the drivers are concerned - Bathurst will always be their favourite track - they know its a major part of the Supercars brand and they enjoy coming here."
As a part-time Uber driver, Mr Welsh said hardly a week went by without a passenger to or from Newcastle Airport telling him they had decided to visit Newcastle after seeing the scenery during a Supercars broadcast.
"I know the promotional side of it is working, and Destination NSW surveys people by email after every event around the country, so they will have all those figures," Mr Welsh said.
A keen race meeting volunteer who says he normally spends about 20 weekends a year at various racetracks, Mr Welsh said he and others were glad to see the return of motor racing.
Lake Macquarie race driver Charlotte Poynting was another commiserating the loss of this year's Newcastle 500, but she said was happy to see the Supercars series up and running again.
A seasoned competitor at 21, Ms Poynting competed in support categories for all three years of the Newcastle race.
Like millions of Australians, she says she's had to "put everything on hold" because of the coronavirus.
Her work as a driving instructor has dried up and she's taken a part-time cleaning job to make ends meet.
Ms Poynting, whose racing exploits have featured in the Herald since she was 16, said it was not only the professional Supercars teams, but the semi-professional and amateur races in the supporting classes, that had lost an opportunity to perform, some, like her, in front of their home-town crowds.
"It's been tough not doing anything, it's been a struggle for sponsors, we don't know where we fit, it's all very uncertain," Ms Poynting said.
She loves the race, unlike Newcastle East resident Christine Everingham, who co-wrote a chronicle of the race, Wrong Track, with former Newcastle Greens councillor Therese Doyle.
Ms Everingham, a trenchant critic of the race and its impact on the heritage-rich East End, said yesterday that she hoped a one-year hiatus would spell the end of the event.
She said Supercars had an option to extend in Newcastle for five years after 2021, but a lot would depend on subsidies and TV money.
She said it was all very well for people to focus on the "warm glow of pride in Newcastle" that the event supposedly generated, but people outside of the affected area did not understand the toll the race took on those who had no choice but to be subjected to it.
"People say 'It's only three days, what are you worried about?'," Ms Everingham said.
"It's not three days, it's nine weeks from the time they start setting up to the time that everything is gone again."
Cr Nelmes said the race brought a range of benefits to Newcastle that could "not be underestimated, nationally or internationally".
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