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Tucson Dragway's Hot Wheels races have been fast fun during coronavirus shutdown
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Tucson Dragway's Hot Wheels races have been fast fun during coronavirus shutdown

Even with most of the sports world being shut down by the coronavirus, racing continued at Tucson Dragway.

OK, it was Hot Wheels cars. Raced inside. Filmed and posted to social media once a week.

Still …

“Our first race got 1.4 million page views,” track manager Matt DeYoung said. “The races after that have been averaging three-quarters of a million page views.”

UPDATES: Tucson area coronavirus developments, June 1: Here's what we know

Races take place on a Hot Wheels track inside the dragway’s Nitro Club. The “Scaled Down Tucson Dragway” includes a tiny building painted with the track’s logo.

DeYoung, a former freelance photographer now running the track, uses iMovie software to turn each 6- or 7-second race into a slick production. Three iPhones film each race from different angles, often in slow motion. Alan Reinhart, “The Voice of NHRA” and a longtime Tucson resident, calls the races.

“And he sells it,” DeYoung said.

Started nearly two months ago during the start of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the Hot Wheels races are just one way DeYoung is trying to keep the Tucson Dragway in the public eye. The track has held citywide, socially-distant scavenger hunts and produced word searches involving sponsors while waiting out the pandemic. Last Friday and Saturday, the dragway transformed into a drive-in theater and sold out both nights. “Cars,” naturally, was the movie of choice.

But it’s the Hot Wheels races that appear to have captured the imagination of racing fans nationwide. DeYoung initially used cars from his own collection before asking viewers to send in their own. He promised to race every car he received, NCAA Tournament-style, with the winner taking home a Hot Wheels drag strip kit.

“And 110 entries later, with cars from Canada, New York and all over the U.S., we raced them off,” he said.

The resulting 45-minute video, posted Monday, concluded with the crowning of a champion. The car came from Marana.

DeYoung plans to continue posting the Hot Wheels videos, maybe one a month or so, even after real-life racing returns to Tucson Dragway. DeYoung said he expects to hold fan-free races at the county-owned track sometime in the next month, and hopes spectators can return sometime in July. He’s working closely with Pima County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state to make sure it’s safe.

Some of the millions who have viewed the Hot Wheels videos will certainly want to see the real thing up close.

“Those numbers are something we never thought we’d get,” DeYoung said, “for — and excuse my language — playing with toys.”

2019 Arizona Press Club and Arizona Newspaper Association Photographer of the Year.

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