Just like it did with essential personnel this past month, NASCAR will require guests attending the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series races at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway to follow strict at-track safety precautions as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 outbreak.
Guests have not been allowed into any national series events since the coronavirus forced a pause on all three schedules back in March. The sanctioning body announced Tuesday a limited number of guests will be permitted to attend the Dixie Vodka 400 on Sunday in Florida and the GEICO 500 on June 21 in Alabama. All guests will be screened before entering, required to wear face masks, mandated to social distance and are forbidden from the infield, among other new safety protocols.
“The race-day experience will be different, it’s just different times, and fans will have to adjust that,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President, Chief Operations and Sales Officer. “We will have to adjust on how we’re addressing these issues for fans. We think we have a very, very good plan in place — a very detailed plan — but make no mistake, I’m sure there will be some key learnings coming out of Homestead that then we will reapply and adjust for Talladaga.”
That’s how NASCAR has gone about every race since the sport returned to action on May 17 at Darlington Raceway — adjusting where needed, when needed with a scrutinous eye on safety. There have been six Cup Series events since then. None of them had practice. Only one had qualifying. A revised 2020 schedule has been planned out through Aug. 2, featuring midweek shows and weekend doubleheaders.
Homestead will invite up to 1,000 South Florida service members. The 1.5-mile track’s grandstand has 55,000 seats.
Talladega will welcome 5,000 fans. NASCAR’s longest oval at 2.66 miles can hold about 80,000 people in its main grandstand alone.
“It is so dependent on the local communities, advice from medical experts, working directly with governor’s offices,” Wolfe said. “Candidly, frankly, in some states there is more flexibility than in other states. Having said that, we can probably be more aggressive with some of these numbers, but we’re choosing not to. We want to start very small, learn and then adapt.”
Concessions will be open since outside coolers will not be allowed for safety reasons. Face masks will be available to guests who do not bring their own. Hand sanitizing and washing will be encouraged with stations easily accessible. There will be a cleaning team visibly working throughout the event in public areas.
Modified event procedures, specifically when it comes to health safety, have been finalized with guidance from multiple credible sources — inside and outside the industry.
“What we’ve been doing is we’ve reached out and have an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist. We’ve actually talked to several of those,” NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations John Bobo said. “What we find is we also need our physicians that we’ve worked with for years through our consulting group that understand racing. We can get the best advice from infectious disease specialists, but also talk to physicians who are actively treating COVID patients and apply it to racing.
“A lot of sets of eyeballs, a lot of people weighing in. We try to be thoughtful, listen, put that all together. ”
NASCAR officials have not determined whether guests will be allowed beyond the Talladega event. Wolfe said he knows it has been announced that Pocono Raceway, which is next on the schedule after Talladega, will not have outside attendees, but that the issue will be addressed further when the time comes.
Wolfe and Bobo both acknowledged how important it is to get this next step in NASCAR’s return-to-racing plan right. They also know fans are probably the most important step back toward normalcy.
“Oh, I miss them a lot,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin said before the return announcement. “To me, I miss the pre-race stuff as much as anything. … Going out to driver intros, fans are either rooting you on or cussing you out. I mean, I’ll take a few cuss-outs here now. I don’t even care. I just want to hear something.”