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This Is How NASCAR Pulled Off A Full Season After Being Derailed By The Pandemic

Illustration for article titled This Is How NASCAR Pulled Off A Full Season After Being Derailed By The Pandemic
Photo: Maddie Meyer (Getty Images)

When COVID-19 knocked the world off its equilibrium, I don’t think many of us expected that most racing series would manage to cobble together much of a season at all, let alone ensure that it would go ahead and contest exactly as many events as it originally intended. Somehow, though, NASCAR has pulled it off—and it still seems too good to be true.

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The detailed story comes from NBC Sports, which pulled off a great profile of NASCAR senior executive vice president Steve O’Donnell and the role he played in keeping America’s premiere stock car racing series on track. Basically, he and other executives started to plan for every possible outcome, be it a two-week lockdown or a ban on all in-person events until the end of 2020.

From the article:

Beyond rejiggering the overhauled Cup schedule through countless permutations — including and weighing endless contingencies that included a Phoenix Raceway bubble or 11 consecutive weekends of double-, triple- and quadrupleheaders — NASCAR also took dramatic steps toward refocusing its future through a much leaner lens.

With O’Donnell spearheading a workgroup of more than five dozen industry members, nearly 300 concepts aimed at maximizing cost and logistical efficiency with cars, engines and personnel (often by slaughtering some sacred cows of its race weekends) were heavily discussed and vetted.

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We now know that most of those most extreme circumstances didn’t take place. We had some mid-week races and some doubleheaders, but now the series is back on track and prepared to wrap up a season’s-worth of events while other series like Formula One and IndyCar have struggled to make things happen on a similar scale.

Not everything has been perfect, and not everything has gone to plan. A few drivers have contracted the virus, but nobody has been mortally ill. NASCAR doesn’t test all the personnel attending a race weekend in the same way F1 does, so it’s a lot harder to track COVID-19 cases when they pop up. And Alanis King did a great deep-dive into the return of fans to NASCAR, which was fraught with chaos and lax attitudes.

So, before you sit down to watch today’s race at Charlotte, have a read of NBC Sports’ great story. I bet you’ll have a little extra appreciation for the fact that things have almost gone back to normal.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

For a sport whose optics to the “outside world” are that of a stuck-in-the-mud, backwards/backwoods organization, I think they’ve really surprised many with how well they handled the return to holding events.

Also, I believe this has opened NASCAR’s eyes to how important the QUALITY of racing is, not just what locations/areas will draw the most in-person fans. If not for this twisted COVID schedule, next year’s schedule would NOT have:

- Six road-course races (If racing at the Daytona Road Course was a one-time only deal, that’s a shame... it was fantastic)
- Two stops at Darlington (Yes, it doesn’t draw the most fans, but the ones it DOES draw are some of the most passionate, and it produces AMAZING racing)
- A dirt-track race
- Two 1.5mile D-shape cookie cutters completely removed.

Also, NASCAR managed to pull off, in my opinion, the absolute best virtual racing. Indycar’s was ok/pretty decent, and Formula One’s was a travesty because they were contractually tied to Codemasters bullshit.