- NASCAR got four races in the books before the stock car racing circuit was forced to go on hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
- All races scheduled through May 9 have been postponed. The next scheduled race is the May 16 All-Star Race in Charlotte.
- NASCAR is hoping to run a full 36 race schedule this season.
NASCAR has been in the same situation as the rest of the major sports in the world with races on hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They were able to run four races in February and early March and were hoping to continue racing without fans in attendance starting with the March 15 race in Atlanta but that proved to be untenable. Now there’s talk of a return to racing without fans sometime in May. This would be welcome news for race fans and NASCAR betting enthusiasts alike.
Here’s the official NASCAR statement released on April 17:
“NASCAR is postponing the scheduled events on May 8-9 at Martinsville Speedway. Our intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined. The health and safety of our competitors, employees, fans and the communities in which we run continues to be our top priority. We will continue to consult with health experts and local, state and federal officials as we assess future scheduling options.”
The next event on the schedule that hasn’t been postponed is the May 16 All Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. An All Star Race is pretty pointless to run without fans in attendance which makes the next ‘official’ race the Coca-Cola 600 run at the same venue on May 24. On some levels, this makes sense from a logistical standpoint with so many NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.
POLITICAL PRESSURE MOUNTING ON NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR ROY COOPER
There’s some degree of enthusiasm for running the Coca-Cola 600 as scheduled without fans. Five state senators from the Charlotte area are calling on the governor to amend his stay-at-home order to at least partially re-open Charlotte Motor Speedway. Cooper’s stay at home order issued March 27 closed ‘non-essential’ businesses as a means to enforce social distancing. The local businesses near the track are also enthusiastic.
A report in the Charlotte Observer indicates that NASCAR has ‘privately’ provided teams with a revised schedule that would see a return to racing with the Coca-Cola 600. Senators Kathy Harrington, Paul Newton, Todd Johnson, Vickie Sawyer and Carl Ford jointly issued a press release making the case to reopen Charlotte Motor Speedway:
“We should be looking at every safe example of a way to partially reopen society, and fan-less NASCAR racing seems like a simple step that Gov. Cooper can take right now.”
“Other states have already adopted this policy, and Gov. Cooper should allow North Carolina to follow suit.”
IS A NEAR TERM RETURN TO RACING REALISTIC OR FOR THAT MATTER ADVISABLE?
Unlike most sports, there’s no person to person contact beyond ‘tradin’ paint’ in NASCAR. This was pointed out by Texas Motor Speedway GM Eddie Gossage:
“Our sport is unique because the competitors are inside the race cars with no body-to-body contact like most other sports.”
Dave Caldwell is one of the top NASCAR writers in the business and he brings up some challenging realities in an article posted at Forbes.com. Caldwell notes that the ‘no body-to-body contact’ might be true for drivers during a race but not in more general terms. To the contrary, the labor intensive nature of the sport means that a few thousand people could be construed as ‘essential personnel’:
“While NASCAR debated whether to hold two races without fans in mid-March, I got in touch with five industry sources who estimated 2,000 to 2,500 people — drivers and their teams, race officials, safety workers and TV employees — are needed for an average weekend.”
That’s not the only issue. Caldwell points out that a NASCAR team’s mechanics and pit crews work in close proximity and that on-track garages are ‘one big noise and dirty working area’. The problem would begin before raceday–once team shops begin to reopen the difficulty of working on cars while maintaining appropriate social distancing would be a major issue that would have to be addressed.
There are those within the industry that are already thinking that the logistics alone make a return to racing for the Coca-Cola 600 a difficult proposition. Even though it’s a Memorial Day weekend tradition–and particularly in the South–it might still be necessary to postpone the event just as the Indianapolis 500 has done by re-scheduling to August 23.