Thursday, NASCAR announced that it will resume racing this month but with no fans in the stands. They are the first of the major sports leagues to resume competition following the economic shutdown that closed everything from billion-dollar pro sports leagues to 5-year-olds playing T-ball with their friends.
Seven weeks have passed since the NBA became the first league to throw in the towel in the face of the growing global pandemic. NASCAR knows that the whole sports industry will be watching them to see how this works.
Steve O’Donnell is NASCAR’s executive vice president.
“It’s a big factor in terms of getting it right,” said VP O’Donnell. “We realize up front it’s a huge responsibility for us as a sport. But I’m also confident in the group we’ve gathered to put this plan together. Our entire industry has come together to believe in the plan we’ve put together.”
NASCAR will resume in two weeks at Darlington.
“We’re certainly going to learn as we go,” O’Donnell said. “But the process we put in place I think gives the industry the confidence that we can be first, we can do this in Darlington.”
The first event on the revised NASCAR schedule is set for May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The Cup Series will race first, followed by two more events on May 19-20 — split between the Xfinity Series and Cup Series.
NASCAR will then go just down the road to the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The Cup Series will compete May 24 and 27. The Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will have their own events on May 25 and 26.
John Bobo is NASCAR’s Vice President of Racing Operations.
“Events are going to look different than they have in the past,” said VP Bobo. “The way we travel to the event, the way we enter the event, move about in the event, the way we leave an event is going to be different.”
NASCAR will allow only essential personnel, who will still be required to social distance. Team rosters are being limited to just 16 people, including the driver.
Everyone allowed at the race track will have to submit to regular evaluations by temperature and symptom checks. NASCAR has chosen not to test people specifically for COVID-19.
Bobo explained, “Really, those tests should be targeted for people most in need.”
These rules and restrictions, among many other precautions, were developed with help from public health officials, medical experts and local, state and federal officials.
NASCAR says that their top priority is keeping everybody safe within the industry and in the communities it’ll visit.
Darlington and Charlotte were chosen, because they’re both just a short driving distance from race shops in North Carolina. Travel means will continue to be taken into consideration as the sport further edits its season schedule.
“We know we have to work together as an industry to keep our own folks safe, to keep each community safe,” Bobo said. “But it is the discipline and the safety culture of NASCAR. We’re the organization that puts cars on the track four days a week at 200 miles an hour. We think it’s that same discipline and eye towards safety that everybody in our industry has that is going to help us execute on this.”
Motor sports racing is the only major league pro-sport played at the highest level in Alabama.
The MGM resort company in Los Vegas on Friday presented a proposal to the National Basketball Association that the league play the remainder of their 2019/2020 season and playoffs at their Los Vegas Mandalay Bay convention center. 21 basketball courts would be built inside the convention center, 5 for television and 16 for practice. The NBA players, their families, officials, coaches, and media would be sequestered in the adjoining hotels for the duration. No fans will be present under this proposal.
Major League Baseball is looking at a similar proposal from Disneyworld as well as the possibility of dividing MLB into 3 conferences that would play each other in three separate locations without fans present.
Presently the NFL plans to play its season as is, though that could change before training camps begin.
The NCAA has adopted a wait and see position on whether the 2020 season will be played as scheduled as well as whether or not fans will be allowed in the stands.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) and horse racing have both held events during the shutdown, without fans present. The Kentucky Derby has been postponed; but the Arkansas Derby was held this weekend.
As of press time, 1,185,285 Americans have been diagnosed with CVOVID-19. There have been 68,507 deaths and 178,219 Americans have recovered from the global pandemic, which originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late last year.
(This report is based on original reporting by NASCAR.com’s Terrin Waack.)