It’s beginning to look like NASCAR may be the first series back on track during our ongoing international coronavirus epidemic. In less than one month from today, NASCAR is tentatively expecting to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, running the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24th in North Carolina without any fans present. During a press conference on Tuesday, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper confirmed that the race could go on as planned, unless health conditions in the state get worse.
As of this moment, North Carolina has been one of the least covid-19 impacted states in the U.S. with a paltry 9,142 confirmed cases and over 300 citizens dead. Of course, as the United States has crested a million cases of the virus, and nearly 60,000 people have died, now seems like the perfect time for drivers and team members to drive or fly in from all over the country. Luckily most of the NASCAR teams are based in the greater Charlotte area, and the haulers won’t be travelling far.
You might be surprised by how many people it takes to run a NASCAR event, however. Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people are required to get a NASCAR race running. It’s not just the teams, either. There are marshals, track workers, safety crew, NASCAR race stewards, suppliers from the fuel and tire manufacturers, caterers, and media.
Beyond the danger of having that many people in one place at one time, the race would also require pulling emergency health workers from their usual duty to watch over this race. A handful of ambulances and at least one medivac helicopter has to be present at the track.
Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. which owns Charlotte, had this to say in response to the governor’s statement: “On behalf of our team at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’d like to thank Gov. Cooper and all of our state and local government officials who are working with us to get NASCAR back on track with the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend where it belongs. We’ll have more details to share soon in conjunction with NASCAR’s release of a revised event schedule.”
North Carolina-based NASCAR teams are expected to return to their shops this week. Governor Cooper announced last week that race shops would be considered “essential business”. In any case, North Carolina is one of the handful of states preparing to “open up” as Cooper’s shelter-in-place recommendations for the state end on May 8th.
I miss racing as much as almost anyone out there, but I won’t hesitate to call this premature. We don’t live in the 1950s anymore, and it’s not lionhearted to risk your life to put on a race, it’s stupid. There is no motorsport entertainment worth this risk. Not only to the people gathering at the track on Memorial Day weekend, but to the folks in the Charlotte, N.C. area who are put at undue risk with an influx of travel from all over the country to facilitate such a race.
There is no part of NASCAR that is essential to our country’s survival, and to say otherwise is selfish.