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A Memorial Day That Will Long Be Remembered

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 24 2020

A eerie scene greeted those who showed up at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Cleary)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – Nine miles from my Concord, N.C., home sits Charlotte Motor Speedway, a sprawling facility where I have spent the majority of my Memorial Day weekends since 1979. 

When I loaded my car to head to the speedway for this year’s Coca-Cola 600 the weather was typical – hot, humid and sunny. However, that was the only thing typical about this Memorial Day weekend. There was no Grand Prix of Monaco to start my day and no Indianapolis 500 for me to watch before I left the house. Even my route this year was different due to NASCAR’s health requirements.

Entrance this year for those approved to work the event was at zMAX Dragway. The first checkpoint consisted of a vehicle check by a canine officer. A few feet away a NASCAR official checked me in and placed a sticker on my credential showing I had been approved. The third checkpoint consisted of a temperature check by NASCAR and Atrium Health medical personnel. Any temperature of 100 degrees or more immediately would end my day. I checked in at 98 degrees. Next it was directly to the press box. That part was a bit nostalgic as that was my race day protocol in the 1980s and ‘90s, but that was where any similarity ended. 

No campers, no fans, no motor coach lot. The teams weren’t even allowed to work in the garages. They were confined to pit road. The transporters were parked six feet apart and consumed the Cup and a portion of the Xfinity garages. The drivers’ motor coaches were parked six-feet apart as well. With the distancing of the vehicles, the infield didn’t look desolate, just lonely without the fans. 

On race day, I have seen this speedway overflowing with 100,000 fans, caterers rushing food and beverages to the VIP suites, traffic backed up on Highway 29 for miles and souvenir rigs enjoying a bustling business, but not this year. The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted those activities. There was no aroma of food on the concourse that’s reminiscent of a State Fair midway. A track employee even apologized for not being able to give me a ride in a golf cart. Everyone wore a mask, not just the competitors, but everyone on speedway property. 

When I passed the Hendrick Motorsports entrance en route to the track, my mind drifted to the families and friends of the competitors and team members who look forward to the Charlotte races. It’s the only time many of them get to experience race day’s electrifying experience. 

It’s the same for those fans who set aside the month of May to erect their temporary neighborhoods at the speedway, visit with long-time friends and attend fan appreciation days at the various race shops.

There also was a void for many military families this year. Each team still honored a fallen soldier, but their families weren’t in attendance. Those still serving in the military who often have the opportunity to attend the event with their families were also absent. 

Some of the traditional pageantry was done virtual and the frontstretch’s apron was adorned with the traditional logos. But there was no stage with adoring fans crowded around it for drive introductions, no media scurrying around the garage and no press conferences.

The pandemic halted all of those activities, but it couldn’t stop the Memorial Day weekend spirit that continued as scheduled with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 24 2020
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