Back in the far-ago past of 17 days ago, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage commented that it would be impossible for IndyCar to conduct a race at Texas without fans or without sharing the weekend with NASCAR, you know, for money reasons. Thankfully IndyCar didn’t risk the safety of its fans to do so, instead choosing to run on the Saturday night taking the NASCAR truck series’ cancelled race weekend on June 6.
While fan safety is maintained by keeping them away from the track, what does this decision mean for the safety of IndyCar’s own teams and drivers? Not only will it take hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel to make this race even happen in the first place. Trucks and trailers will have to be hauled across the country to reach the event, and drivers and team members will be forced to take commercial flights.
In a time when the United States is still diagnosing 25,000 new cases of covid-19 and suffering over 2,000 deaths every day, is it really wise to be planning for a massive multinational race just 30 days away? What will change in the state of our nation between now and then?
Furthermore, the U.S. travel ban is still in effect until May 21st. Assuming it doesn’t get pushed out again, will IndyCar drivers even be allowed into the country to contest the race? And if they are allowed in, will they be forced to quarantine for say 14 days? That’s cutting it awfully close. This is a series with racers from the Antipodes, Japan, Europe, Canada, Central, and South America.
The 1.5-mile oval has hosted IndyCar for 24 straight years, and for the first time ever will hold the season opener. The series hasn’t indicated many of the specifics of its health guidelines for racing in the time of coronavirus, but it looks half-assed at best.
Obviously the IndyCar races will be run without fans in attendance, and there will be a reduced number of personnel on site to facilitate the racing. IndyCar does not say how many team members will be allowed in per car. Anyone entering the track will be given a “health screening”, though if this does not include the nasal swab test to confirm a diagnosis, it’s largely useless as anybody can be a host for the virus for weeks before displaying any symptoms. All humans on-site will be provided with PPE equipment, which seems like bad optics in a time when hospitals can’t get the PPE they need to care for the patients already ill with the virus.
IndyCar says it will carefully maintain social distancing protocols, but I don’t see how that can be remotely possible when a pit crew works inches apart from each other, or in the case of a safety crew retrieving a wrecked car. There will also be a revised layout of the paddock to increase distancing, but there is only so much room inside a 1.5 mile oval.
In an effort to reduce the time on-site, IndyCar will run a practice, a qualifying session, and the shortened 200 lap race on a single Saturday. IndyCar gets the track from 1:30 PM Saturday onward, with the race starting at 8:45 pm local time.
The series made the right decision to postpone its events, but it is rushing back to racing in a way that can only be unsafe. Other countries have managed to beat the virus and have massively reduced the number of new cases and deaths. The United States has barely tried anything and has already given up. It is truly disappointing to see.
Nobody wants to see racing come back more than me, but it has to be done the right way. I truly hope everyone involved comes out the other side of this race healthy and safe.
[This article previously indicated that IndyCar would be sharing the race weekend with NASCAR trucks. The truck race has been postponed indefinitely. The article has been updated to reflect that.]