Coronavirus Is Coming For Racing Drivers

Illustration for article titled Coronavirus Is Coming For Racing Drivers
Photo: Jimmie Johnson/Hendrick Motorsports

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was supposed to race at Indianapolis yesterday, and he was supposed to test an IndyCar this week ahead of a potential 500 bid. Cadillac prototype racer Felipe Nasr was supposed to race at Daytona on Saturday night. Bob Tasca, III was planning to race his Ford NHRA funny car this coming weekend. None of that can happen now, because they all caught coronavirus.

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Johnson, for his part, doesn’t know how he and his wife were infected. NASCAR has been back to racing since May 17th, the first major international series to return to the track by a wide margin. Jimmie, who lives in Colorado, has flown to and participated in 11 rounds of the 2020 series since then, and was racing at Pocono just a week ago. There’s no telling where he caught the virus, or how long he’s been infected as he’s still asymptomatic, but it’s possible that a race weekend packed with a few thousand people in the paddock might have exposed him to the threat.

Once Johnson tested positive, the team did the right thing and pulled up Justin Allgaier to drive the famed 48. This was the first time in 663 NASCAR cup races that Jimmie wasn’t on the starting grid.

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IMSA racer Felipe Nasr says he was doing everything right. The Brazilian entered the U.S. about a month ago in preparation for this weekend’s Daytona race. He was staying at his home in Miami, but had been in contact with other IMSA racers including Pipo Derani and former racer Christian Fitipaldi (below). When he was driving north from Miami to Daytona to get in the car, he started to feel ill and pulled off to get himself tested for the virus.

While the contact between Nasr and the others tagged in the tweet was more than 14 days before the race, IMSA does not do any form of virus testing. And if Nasr hadn’t tested himself, it’s possible he would have been granted access to DIS and spread the virus around the paddock. Instead, he did the responsible thing and called out for the weekend and the team substituted him with racer Gabby Chaves instead.

For his part, Bob Tasca the third announced Monday that he’d tested positive for the virus. The 44-year-old auto dealer was taken by surprise when he was diagnosed, saying “What makes this so scary is how good I felt for almost seven days from being exposed,” he said. “I had no symptoms but tested positive; I couldn’t believe it. Then days eight through 10 came and I have never been so sick in my life.”

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We only know what has been released from the team at the moment, but it appears that Tasca has known of his diagnosis for at least three days, and has been sick in the intervening time. There isn’t any indication as to why Tasca subjected himself to a test last week, aside from an abundance of caution. They also don’t mention what his exposure point was, or if he’d been in contact with anyone else in the team for those first seven days of asymptomatic exposure. [Update 07/07/20 1:09 PM: The team has confirmed that Mr. Tasca had not been in contact with any other team members. He was at his home in Rhode Island, and has not been with other team members since the last race in February.] 

“It’s so important we all practice social distancing and wear masks,” Tasca continues. “We all need to play a role in limiting the dangers of COVID-19. I am so disappointed I will not be with my team this week, but I know they will make us Ford fans proud. If I can help one other person make those choices, it’s worth me sharing my experience.”

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Now obviously the IMSA and NHRA paddocks didn’t contribute to either Nasr or Tasca contracting the virus, as neither had restarted racing yet. But if these two were infected and didn’t know it, how many racers and team members were inadvertently spreading covid-19 this weekend?

I am astonished that it took NASCAR this long to see a driver infected with the virus. Honestly, having been racing at the height and growth of the U.S. spread, the series has been playing with fire. To make matters worse, they are continuing to increase access to fans in the stands. I really hope it doesn’t, but the only thing I can think is that this will backfire.

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Obviously I wish all three of these drivers a swift and full recovery. Is it time that the racing community takes this virus a little more seriously? Every racing series should test all on-site staff. Every single race. Nobody should be allowed in the paddock if they test positive. And racing in Florida, the state where 10,000 new cases were confirmed on a Sunday, should be seriously reconsidered (IMSA is racing in Florida again next weekend with a Sebring sprint event.)

We’re all in a rough spot right now, and racing is a great part of life that it seriously sucks to go without, but do we really want to risk the lives of our racing heroes to have something to do on a Sunday afternoon? I vote no.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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DISCUSSION

officerfarva420
Officer Farva

I think too many people simply can’t handle the idea of taking a year off from anything. Can’t stay home, can’t stop playing sports, etc, etc. It’s just terrible all around.

Meanwhile, Europe and even fucking Canada are ahead of us in containing coronavirus.