Plenty On The Line When NASCAR Returns

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2020

Engines will roar at Darlington this month. The crowd will not. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

When NASCAR returns to racing May 17 at Darlington Raceway it will mark the resumption of live sports for the first time since COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt in mid-March.

Resuming the season at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway will thrust the sport into an international spotlight of intense scrutiny. Officials realize this is the case and they know that failure isn’t an option. The sport’s livelihood depends on them getting it right. That’s why on Thursday when NASCAR announced its decision to resume its season in the region where stock car racing was born officials said they probably were on version 65 of their plan. 

Darlington Raceway, which hosted its first race in 1950, is NASCAR’s launching pad. After three races there – two Cup and one Xfinity – NASCAR moves into North Carolina and Charlotte Motor Speedway, which opened in 1960.

 The Coca-Cola 600 is the showcase for a return to normalcy. It will be on its originally scheduled Memorial Day weekend date of May 24.  With no Indianapolis 500 and Grand Prix of Monaco that day, NASCAR owns the Memorial Day weekend spotlight. By the time NASCAR leaves Charlotte at the end of May, the track will have hosted Xfinity, Truck and two Cup races. 

The good thing is none of these races adversely affect the Southern 500 scheduled for Labor Day weekend and no schedule change is expected for the Cup playoffs. 

NASCAR still intends to run the same number of events in all three of its national series that were announced at the season’s beginning, but don’t expect the landscape to look the same. The Darlington and Charlotte events mean some race dates are being moved from another track. NASCAR officials said they would announce which tracks before Darlington. This decision will probably cost some sponsorship money for teams and tracks.

However, returning to on-track activity was critical for NASCAR to obtain the TV money that teams and speedways so desperately need. And with NASCAR being the first to take the step back into live events, it could boost the sport’s TV ratings. Pocono is still on-tap as the sport’s first double-header weekend, but there could be others. 

Fluidity is expected as everything progresses, but some things are definite. There will be no fans, each team will be limited to 16 people at the track, and social distancing and procedures outlined by the medical community will be strictly enforced. Cloth masks will be required by everyone in the infield, and there could be two screenings of an individual: The first for temperature and the second with medical personnel, who will check heart rate and pulse oxygenation.

They will then determine whether the person can proceed. There will be additional screening for essential personnel. Even the way the transporters enter and leave the track will be changed and NASCAR has asked that people, who go to the track, not work in the race shop.  

 Fortunately, NASCAR based its plan on information from the medical community. In early March, it began working with an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist, and consulting numerous other physicians in emergency medicine who were actively treating COVID-19 patients. Conversations also were held with public health officials in North and South Carolina.

NASCAR has put together the best plan possible to resume racing with the data it had to work with; however, a bit of irony exists. The region NASCAR tried so hard to discard in rebranding itself as a national sport is now coming to its rescue. With the majority of the teams based in the Southeast, specifically the Charlotte area, everyone can drive to the tracks, race and return home. No hotels and no planes. It’s a perfect scenario for dealing with a health situation no one could have ever imagined. Just think what they could do if North Wilkesboro and Rockingham were still open. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2020
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