Pandemic or no pandemic, the good ol’ boys from the south are getting ready to roll — in front of empty stands.
Racing fans rejoice — NASCAR announced Thursday that it will resume its season without fans starting May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina with the premier Cup Series racing three more times in a 10-day span, the CBC reported.
NASCAR joins the UFC as the first major sports organizations to announce specific return to play plans since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most US sports in mid-March.
“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice-president and chief racing development officer.
“NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.
NASCAR’s revised schedule goes only through May and has a pair of Wednesday Cup races, fulfilling fans longtime plea for midweek events, the CBC reported.
The first race is scheduled for Darlington, NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, followed by a second race at the 70-year-old, egg-shaped oval track three days later.
Charlotte Motor Speedway will then host the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 to mark 60 consecutive years the longest race on the NASCAR schedule will be held on Memorial Day weekend, the CBC reported.
The track in Concord, outside NASCAR’s home base of Charlotte, will then host a Wednesday race three days later.
There will also be lower-tier Xfinity and Trucks series races at the two tracks. The North Carolina governor has said the the Charlotte races can be held as long as health conditions in the area do not deteriorate, the CBC reported.
“This has been a proactive effort to put our motorsports industry back to work and boost the morale of sports fans around the world, while at the same time keeping the health and safety of all who will be on site the top priority,” said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports.
He said “sports fans around the world need this, a return to some sense of normalcy with live sports on TV, and NASCAR is uniquely positioned to deliver it from a competition standpoint.”
NASCAR has set guidelines to safely hold the events using CDC guidelines on social distancing and personal protective equipment. Only essential personnel will be permitted to attend the events, and cloth face masks will be required, the CBC reported.
According to ESPN, there will be random temperature checks of everyone working in the garage area.
Anyone determined to be symptomatic will be checked via an outside care center. If they are determined to be a potential virus threat, they will be required to leave and be replaced with another crew member. This includes drivers.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said it’s unfortunately imperative fans cannot attend, CNN reported.
“Safety is obviously the most important thing & I know NASCAR has been working to ensure that we have the necessary safety precautions in place,” he tweeted.
“While it’s unfortunate that there won’t be fans in the stands, it’s obviously necessary at this time.”
“Yes! I am so psyched we are going back racing. I cannot wait to get back in my race car,” driver Aric Amirola said in a video posted to Twitter.