NASCAR COVID-19 no fan racing begins at the Darlington Raceway on Sunday, May 17 in a made-for-TV National Cup Series Race across Fox Networks, the first of seven races in an 11-day span. Primetime may never be the same for NASCAR and their fans as midweek races are on the schedule in an attempt to return to some kind of societal normalcy through live sports events as the pandemic rolls on worldwide. Coronavirus restrictions are easing across parts of the United States despite the warnings of health experts. NASCAR officials got together with South Carolina and North Carolina public health officials and medical experts, and state, local and federal officials, to collaborate on a comprehensive plan complete with protocols and procedures to ensure safety and assume responsibilities for competitors and surrounding communities. The Sports Techie community blog recently wrote about the surge in eNASCAR viewership and their growth in sports betting so it is of no surprise that their executive team decided to piggy back on the record ratings and continue racing close to home in Darlington and Charlotte, virus or no virus.
NASCAR Pushes The Safety Limits
The NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series are each hosting their first on-track, one day show since back in mid-March when COVID-19 cases were in the single digits per day, according to Bloomberg graphics. The graphic says 26,475 got the disease today, while the total number of cases in the United States climbed past 1 million with nearly 63,000 deaths.
There are many unanswered questions about the virus such as how airborne it is, how many people are asymptomatic and whether the change in weather will even slow down the spread and flatten the curve nationally, regionally and locally. NASCAR says they are following CDC guidelines and OSHA Laws and Regulations but is that enough to ensure the safety of the 1,000 people in attendance at each race. The plan is to allow a roster of 16 people per car that includes the driver, owner, hauler driver, spotter and crew chief, plus others. NASCAR claims that local governments have determined it was safe to return to racing in their state when yesterday infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned reopening states, “You can’t just leap over things.”
Yet leaping into the unknown is the basis of the theory that by racing near team bases in Charlotte, the threat of infection is greatly reduced. There will be no practicing or qualifying except for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Racers and crew can go home at night eliminating the need for hotels. Personnel at the track are being told to not return to the shop. All those in attendance can bring their own food. Large gatherings and meetings are to be eliminated. A mandate is in place to wear protective equipment. Health screening of people entering facilities in addition to secondary screenings is happening. The plan also calls for the use of social distancing on the track infield. Holding seven events in three series using two racetracks near Charlotte also eliminates the need to air travel. Even with all these safety protocols in place, the threat of COVOD-19 is still very much alive for the thousand or so in attendance with the added risk of passing the disease to loved ones and the local community at-large.
“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community. We thank local, state and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track.”
Yes, social distancing best practices will be in place as will live pit stops for each race. NASCAR Vice President of Racing Development, Ben Kennedy, says social distancing protocols will be maintained as will the observance of trends and local restrictions for the May racing schedule broadcasting on FOX and FS1. The first 400-mile event at the Lady in Black racetrack is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, FOX Deportes, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, the first Spring race hosted there since 2014.
“We are excited to welcome back the FOX NASCAR season to our airwaves to provide a return to live sports, a move toward normalcy and a much-needed distraction during these unprecedented times,” said Mark Silverman, President, National Networks, FOX Sports. “While we are thrilled to return to the race track, the health and safety of our employees and all race participants is our top priority. We will continue working in lockstep with our partners at NASCAR and the race tracks to follow all national and local health guidelines.”
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will continue for the 60th consecutive race over Memorial Day weekend. Note, the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend in Darlington is the opener to NASCAR playoffs and is not a rescheduled May race.
All-day, one-day shows
- Mandated use of personal protective equipment throughout the event;
- Health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility, while inside the facility and exiting the facility;
- Social distancing protocols throughout the event;
- Strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into each facility
- Keeping workspaces separated unless absolutely necessary, and if a group of people works closely, that group will have little to no interaction with other groups.
- Haulers and race cars will have an open space between them — 6 feet minimum — and those spaces must remain clear.
- For Darlington, the Cup garage and motorcoach lot in Turn 3 will be the new “garage.”
- Twenty haulers will be in the traditional Cup garage; balance of the field will be in the motorcoach lot.
- Inspection of vehicles to correspond with the order teams enter the garage; as soon as a team enters, it would unload the car and proceed to inspection
Sports Techie, as part of a Darlington Q&A, the following was asked.
Q: What if a driver develops symptoms before the race and can’t participate? Will a backup driver be allowed, and what are the championship implications of that?
A: We’ve worked with the race teams to update the rulebook provisions for medical waivers to account for potential missed races due to COVID-19 infection.
Frankly, was the right question even asked? Perhaps it should have been more in the line of questioning as to what will be the protocol for tracing every person exposed to a positive COVID-19 driver, crew member or any other infected individual. That’s what I want to know.
Scary for me and my family is that Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) is under consideration for a future race in 2020 as Governor Kemp eased restrictions on stay at home orders today even after a new model showed the potential of double the amount of deaths in Georgia because of relaxed social distancing.
While I am all for helping the economy out through sports and technology, is NASCAR an essential business as the WWE was deemed in Florida?
You answer that.
Blessings to all those that attend the scheduled NASCAR races in May, luck needs to be present because science surely is not.
See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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