While most major sports throughout the country have effectively been put on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR is one of the few leagues to have run regularly scheduled events. Now, NASCAR is one step closer to business as usual. On Tuesday, the auto sanctioning body announced its plan to reopen to fans, starting with the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
“We have tremendous respect and appreciation for the responsibility that comes with integrating guests back into our events,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer, according to NASCAR.com. “We believe implementing this methodical process is an important step forward for the sport and the future of live sporting events. The passion and unwavering support of our industry and fans is the reason we race each weekend and we look forward to slowly and responsibly welcoming them back at select events.”
For the Miami race on June 14, NASCAR will allow 1,000 Florida service members to attend. Representing the Homestead Air Reserve Base and U.S. Southern Command in Doral, these service members will be treated as honorary guests and will be able to view the NASCAR Cup Series race from the grandstands.
For the Talladega Superspeedway race on June 21, NASCAR is limiting the number of fans to 5,000 at the Alabama racetrack. There will also be limited motorhome/camping spots available outside the track.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, NASCAR fans attending upcoming races will still be required to follow health and social distancing guidelines. According to the official NASCAR press release announcing the reopening, “all guests in attendance will be screened before entering, required to wear face coverings, mandated to social distance at 6 feet, and will not have access to the infield, among other revised operational protocols.”
“We’re going to have a lot of hand sanitizing, hand washing,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. “One of the things that I’m kind of proud of to see is we’re going to have a clean team, a clean team that’s at track constantly cleaning everything very visibly for every guest that’s there to know we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe. We feel confident in the plan.”
While NASCAR drivers returned to the track for competition on May 17 after a 2-month hiatus, the races at Darlington Raceway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Bristol Motor Speedway were all fanless. And, as 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano points out, feeding off the energy of fans is incredibly important for any driver.
“We really miss our fans, but, at the same time, we’re with our fans,” Logano said. “Before the races start and you’re on pit road and you don’t have any fans around you, you can’t hear any cheering or booing from driver’s intros, or everyone getting all fired up before they say ‘drivers start your engines.’ We don’t have that part, but when the race starts, the race starts and you’re kind of in the zone and you don’t notice it.”
With Wednesday night’s Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway and the June 27 and 28 doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway being held without fans, NASCAR’s reopening process is still a work in progress. But, things are also clearly moving in a positive direction, and that’s a great sign for fans of the sport.