By on May 20, 2020

Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock.com

I’m a relatively casual racing fan.

Daytona and Indy are appointment viewing for me each year, but the rest of the racing season, I sort of tune in and out as I please.

I used to follow NASCAR more closely, but over the years I’ve drifted away. I suspect that’s because the drivers I grew up watching got old and now either pilot a lounge chair in their living rooms on Sundays, or have a cushy broadcast gig.

Still, when I saw NASCAR was going to be back last Sunday with a race that counted, albeit with no fans and all sorts of restrictions in place on the crews to avoid the spread of COVID-19, I knew I was gonna watch. Real live sports! For the first time since early March! No more marble races or old dodgeball matches from recent years. Those are actual things I’ve watched on ESPN during shelter-in-place.

That said, I wasn’t sure I should be excited. One of the arguments against bringing ANY sport, including racing, back too soon, even sans fans, centers around the number of people needed to stage an event. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes folks involved, and even one infected asymptomatic or presymptomatic person could spread the disease. Testing can’t always account for that.

To its credit, NASCAR took plenty of precautions, including staging the race close to Charlotte, North Carolina, which serves as a base for many teams.

Fox’s broadcast crew did likewise (Fox’s sports division seems to have more sense than certain talking heads on the news side, but I digress). On-site crew was minimized, and those who were working in the off-site studios maintained distance from one another. The announcers weren’t even at the track, and on-site reporter Regan Smith was masked and maintaining proper distance from interview subjects.

Everyone else wore a mask when possible. Of course, anyone who has ever strapped into a race suit knows that some headsocks cover the mouth and nose anyway. The only time I saw someone not wearing a mask was at race’s end – winner Kevin Harvick stripped off his helmet and HANS device, taking his headsock with it, before speaking to Smith.

Speaking of the race’s end, that was the only time it felt weird to not have fans. I thought it would be stranger to see empty grandstands than it was, but it felt just like I was watching a lower-level series that rarely draws many fans. Or perhaps a better comparison is that it felt like watching a practice session. It’s not like the roaring engines don’t normally drown out most crowd noise during races with fans, anyway.

As for the racing itself, it seemed mostly par for the NASCAR course, although I stopped watching closely after the first few laps because I wanted to get some cleaning done around the house. I left it on in the background. Told you I was a relatively casual fan.

I still think NASCAR probably should’ve waited till June to return, just to be on the safe side, especially given the number of people involved in putting on a race, and the impossibility of social distancing during a pit stop. On the other hand, pit crews were already masked and helmeted pre-pandemic, so maybe the risk of virus spread is pretty low.

It’s not just about safety. It’s also about optics. Should entertainment businesses, and sports is essentially entertainment, be active when lots of people are dying? Or is it a necessary distraction from the grim news for those of us at home? Testing plays a part, too. Why should a pro-sports league have access to tests when the general public is struggling to get access to testing? That’s not necessarily a NASCAR-specific question, but it applies to all sports.

We’re still not ready for stick-and-ball sports, save possibly golf, in my opinion. Even without fans. That’s for the same reasons – too many people involved in putting on the event. Not to mention the close contact among athletes required in most sports. I can’t imagine linemen in football breathing on each other until we have some sort of treatment, or at least much better testing.

But perhaps racing is low-risk enough. The cynic in me still thinks NASCAR’s return may have been a money grab (in terms of broadcast revenue, of course) – the sport has the spotlight more or less to itself, for now. Not to mention that I’m, as a viewer, complicit. If I really didn’t want to support a sport I thought was opening too soon, I’d have watched something else.

On the other hand, if the sport (and motorsports at large) can run at low risk for participants, maybe it’s fine for NASCAR to try to earn money instead of losing it via shutdown? And maybe, for those of us still under stay-at-home orders, it’s a boon to our mental health to have something somewhat resembling normalcy on our TVs?

Even after states reopen, most of us are still going to be home a lot until there’s a treatment or a vaccine. This will be partly out of caution – save for a few morons who think the virus is no big deal, most of us don’t want to risk catching it – and partly because most states will limit capacities in social venues, and in some places, bars/restaurants/theaters/concert venues won’t be re-opened, at least not for in-person use by customers, until well after other businesses are allowed to resume.

I don’t know if I’ll be watching tonight’s race – I’m scheduled to do a Zoom happy hour, and there’s some classic sports programming involving my favorite NBA team I’m interested in – but I do know that part of me is very glad to have racing back.

The other part of me, though, has concerns. For the sake of the people working the races, I hope those concerns are unfounded.

This is how life will be for a while. I’m on record on these pages as being supportive of the shelter-in-place orders, but even those of us who thought they were the right thing to do know that they weren’t meant to last for more than a few months. The world was going to have to re-open sometime, vaccine and/or treatment or not. So, until the new normal looks more like the old one, individuals and big businesses while have to make tough choices using risk/reward metrics.

Let’s hope NASCAR made the right choice.

[Images: Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock]

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41 Comments on “Fan-free NASCAR Racing Leads to Mixed Feelings...”


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I watched Sunday as well in a similar fashion. Had it on in the garage while I puttered on my recent car purchase/flip. **If anyone needs or wants a mint condition 04′ LeSabre let me know**

    I will also have tonights race on as well. NASCAR is one of the few sports where having fans in the stands or not does not change the viewing experience so I am good with it.
    Baseball will most likely return sooner as well, no one goes anyway so the players are used to playing to empty or partially/mostly empty stadiums in most cases and other than playoff games the fans are not important to the game.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      NASCAR had very few in the stands anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “**If anyone needs or wants a mint condition 04′ LeSabre let me know**”

      Does it have RPO Y56?

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        No, not on a Gen-8 LeSabre, no way.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Buick still offered a Y56 package on the 8th gen LeSabres.

          msn.com/en-us/autos/buick/
          lesabre/2002/options/limited/sd-AAbLhBX

          It came with:
          -3.050:1 axle ratio
          -Sport alternate suspension
          -Rear suspension with stabilizer bar
          -Front and rear alloy wheels with 16 inch rim diam and 6.5 inch rim width
          -Vehicle speed proportional power steering

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          Ajla..your funny.

          No, my grandpa edition 2004 3800 V6 LeSabre does not have the option code or installed parts for a mid 80’s RWD turbo Buick. Be kinda cool if it did.

          I does have a really nice and clean interior along with a quiet luxurious ride and no silly center console so us tall guys can stretch that right leg out on long drives that require cruise control.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Good Ol’ GM – habitually building something interesting but in such small numbers that most enthusiasts never know it exists. Like the end of the line 98 Touring Coupes that were available with the supercharged 3800.

            I actually like the lines of the LeSabre from the 1992 through end of production in 2005. Because I didn’t know about any “production codes” that would give you a taught suspension I had always fantasized about swapping in some swaybars etc from a similar year Bonneville.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    @Tim Healey – there was something so strangely entertaining about that marble racing that just can’t be explained! Excellent production values as well.

    @87 Morgan – Agree. The arena sports need fans (I can’t imagine a Flyers game without the insane, semi-rabid fans, especially when the Rangers come to town) and college and pro football, without fans, why bother? But the low contact sports – baseball, tennis, golf, even horse racing, let’s start bringing it safely up to speed now that there’s more testing and people are more comfortable with what’s going on around them.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’d be pretty confident about being able to play golf or tennis without undue risk, but baseball…I dunno. You don’t stand very close to everyone else on the field, but the locker room and training facilities room? That’s what would make me nervous.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That sound you hear is heads getting ready to explode.

    But, yeah, if there’s any sport that presents a lower risk of COVID spread, I’d have to think it’s auto racing.

    As far as the traditional sports are concerned…you’d have to be nuts to play football or hockey right now. But I predict football season will go on as scheduled, for two reasons: 1) it’s a Fortune 500 business, and 2) unlike most other pro sports, the players don’t get paid unless they play.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      One problem on the player side is what do you do if when the opposing team flys together on the same plane, then one player tests positive. Do you let them play? Do they have to forfeit? On the NFL fan side, everyone tends to hit the bathrooms at the same time. Especially at halftime. Jam-packed bathrooms and the aerosol effect from toilet flushes. Never a good combination.

      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16033465/

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        These guys are breathing heavy on each other on a field for 60 minutes. Sometimes they are stuck in a pile. That strikes me as an excellent way to pass this from player to player.

        I suspect players will play anyway – these are guys who risk getting maimed for life every time they show up to work, so maybe COVID doesn’t scare them all that much. Plus, the way most NFL contracts are structured, if they don’t play, they don’t get paid, and most can’t afford to be without a paycheck – just like some guy who has to risk it and show up to a meatpacking plant, just with a higher pay scale.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “These guys are breathing heavy on each other on a field for 60 minutes.”

          They’re testing face masks now, so they may solve that problem. I’m more concerned about the plane and the team bus when they travel. Then there’s the risk of screwing up the league if a team gets sick.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “I still think NASCAR probably should’ve waited till June to return, just to be on the safe side”

    Is this just a arbitrary thought or is there an discrete metric you’re expecting would be reached in June?

    Personally I’m more conflicted about low-wage workers at Wal-Mart and Amazon over the past two months compared to what NASCAR is doing now. At least with the cameras on they seemed to be taking every possible precaution and I’ve never believed that entertainment activities should come to a stop just because bad things are happening somewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I can’t speak for Wal-Mart, but I was doing a part time gig at Amazon before this hit – I didn’t really need the money, but they were basically paying me $15-20 an hour to get my steps in, so why not?

      (If anyone’s looking for an easy side hustle, I highly recommend one of Amazon’s grocery delivery facilities – you get to sign up weekly for as many hours as you’re comfortable with, and the work is EASY – you just push a cart around and pick groceries off shelves.)

      Anyway, I stopped going in a couple of months ago. But I can tell you I’m actually pretty impressed with what they’re doing – they set up thermographic imaging devices to test workers when they enter the facilities, and because it’s a Whole Foods delivery center, they already had plenty of gloves, hand sanitizers, and what not.

      They notify employees when a co-worker comes down with this – so far, one worker at my facility has been affected. Pretty amazing, considering that there are probably a hundred people or so there at any given time, 24/7.

      I might start going back in the next couple of weeks – I need to get the hell out of the house.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Semi-arbitrary based on my very much a layman reading of the case data. The areas that got hit hardest first should be in decline by then, and I am hopeful testing will be ramped up in the next few weeks.

      That said, I’m no epidemiologist, just someone who watches the news and tries to interpret this stuff. I could be way wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      pyrahna81

      I assure you it wasn’t just with the cameras on. This virus is being taken seriously in the garage area.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “save for a few morons who think the virus is no big deal”

    Tim, that’s a hell of a way to refer to the B&B

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Obviously not my intent. I was referring to others I’ve read about.

      That said, I am very glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I saw your quip. So is my keyboard.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “ Obviously not my intent.”

        It absolutely was. But that’s ok. History continues to prove how right myself and the other non-hysterical people are regarding this.

        I’d be curious to know what you and the others (the ones that throw tantrums when you go against the narrative) have to say about the 600 doctors that signed a letter that was sent to the President “calling the widespread state orders keeping businesses closed and kids home from school a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing health consequences.” They also went on to say, “ “We are alarmed at what appears to be the lack of consideration for the future health of our patients,” the doctors say in their letter. “The downstream health effects … are being massively under-estimated and under-reported. This is an order of magnitude error.”

        Now I’m curious if these are doctors we listen to or if these are doctors we summarily dismiss because they go against the narrative.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          “History continues to prove how right myself and the other non-hysterical people are regarding this”

          LOL….

          Sweden’s economy is tanking with some of the highest death rates in Europe. The whole herd immunity theory is being proven a farce as seroprevalence testing and the associated statistics are being made public.

          Countries like Spain with huge death rates are finding that only 5% of the population has SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Sweden, the poster-child of the ignorant, is showing antibody seroprevalence rates around 7%. They were expecting 1/3 (33%) of their population to have antibodies by now. 65% is the magic number for herd immunity. That’s a lot of corpses going into the ground on the way to 65%.

          These same studies are indicating only 25% of the population is asymptomatic. That is lower than previously thought.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Sweden is close to a month beyond their peak, with half the deaths per capita of Spain and about 60% of both Italy and the UK. 75% of France. I would think that their death rate will continue to decline, as it has for the past 30 days.

            What am I missing when looking at these trends? Nothing about the data is scaring me into isolation.

            https://i2.wp.com/wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/corona-deaths-20200520.png?w=717&ssl=1

            https://i0.wp.com/wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/daily-deaths-sweden-20200518.png?w=717&ssl=1

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “ LOL….

            Sweden’s economy is tanking with some of the highest death rates in Europe. The whole herd immunity theory is being proven a farce as seroprevalence testing and the associated statistics are being made public.“

            https://www.yahoo.com/news/as-more-states-reopen-georgia-defies-predictions-of-coronavirus-resurgence-whats-the-lesson-for-the-rest-of-the-country-164734815.html

            But let me guess…Yahoo news is a right wing news site and therefore has no legitimacy what-so-ever?

            And how convenient you ignore the part where 600 doctors are in disagreement with the lockdown.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          “ Obviously not my intent.”

          It absolutely was.”

          If it walks like a duck…

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            I figured you’d ignore the 600 doctors that are against this lockdown nonsense.

            Just can’t break that party loyalty eh?

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Lie2me- George Carlin had a rant about the number of sins in “feeling up MaryEllen”. Intent and the thought of intent were sins too.

            Ironically, those who don’t have much comprehension rely on cut and paste or just selective cut and paste. Spammin’ ain’t understandin’!!!

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It’s so silly. Why compare Sweden’s horrible death rate to the worst hit countries in Europe?

            The immunity of the young and or healthy is irrelevant anyway. They’re just carriers of the decease, like mosquitos to malaria.

            Except clearly the more of them you infect to pass it around, the more deaths of the old and or weak.

            No one can argue the cities with high population density had exponentially higher death rates, per million, than sparsely populated countries.

            For it to be a valid study, the lockdowns should’ve started on Day One (as did Herd Immunity), not mid March.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “save for a few morons who think the virus is no big deal”

      @Lie2Me – as your VP, how would you categorize the 2 individuals that immediately come to mind?

      Here is your chance to throw me under the bus.LOL

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Honestly I get more thrill out of watching Cars & Cars 3 than I do out of NASCAR. (Cars 2 is crap)

    Lucky for me my almost 2 year old toddler son agrees with me.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Was it too soon to be seeing a sporting event considering the lives lost? Well, I lost a life to Covid-19 and my two cents is no, it is not too soon to return to sports if we can do so safely. Racing, as already pointed out, is easier to do safely if we are going to eliminate the fans which pose the biggest risk.

    BTW, despite what you heard on Fox News about the virus, the News Corporation, who owns Fox, had much of their staff working from home, even when the talking heads were downplaying the risks. Which is why I avoid most opinion programming in the first place. It is not news; it’s the hosts interpretation.

    The sooner we adapt to the new world order the better off we will be. I just hope that if a need arises to back off a bit we are all willing to do so. This is the new reality for the rest of the year.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    After 9/11, the late-night talk shows went off the air for a bit. Upon returning, I recall Jay Leno saying something like “we can’t change what has happened, but those of us in this business feel a responsibility to serve our audience with entertainment and laughter, because it’s good for the soul.”

    Some NASCAR could be good for people, even if they can’t be there in person.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Things I won’t be doing:
    • Prophylactic hydroxychloroquine
    • Internal ultraviolet light exposure
    • Compulsive hand-washing when I haven’t left the house all day

    Things I am doing:
    • Everyone gets occasional temperature checks, including the rare overnight visitor (you show up without a fever and we send you away without a fever)
    • Minimize risk to others (keep my distance on rare visits to the store, wear a mask when others have stopped wearing masks)
    • Wash my hands when I’ve been around other people

    Things I intend to do more of:
    • Vitamin D, preferably in the form of natural sunlight
    • More physical activity, and more outside activity (see above)
    • Low doses of Vitamin C and maybe echinacea

    [And if I were diagnosed with COVID-19, I would look seriously at low doses of sodium bicarbonate (general alkalinity) and ammonium chloride (NH4Cl, it’s lysosomotropic). Not as a magic bullet or talisman. I’m not a doctor – I would ask my doctor. Ammonium chloride is used in salmiak liquorice in Sweden.]

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Sodium bicarb taken in sufficient enough quantities can alter the pH of your gut and alter the bacterial content of your intestinal tract. that isn’t good. As long as your lungs and kidneys are working fine, sodium bicarb won’t alter your pH all that much. The body functions best within a pH of 7.35 to 7.45 (slightly alkaline).
      Ammonium chloride – I’m not sure how that will benefit. The bacteria in your gut produce ammonia which is processed in your liver. If you have a normal liver, taking in external sources of ammonia just means more work for the liver.

      SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence studies in Europe are showing that roughly 25% of the populace has been totally asymptomatic. Most jurisdictions are reporting roughly 5% of the populace has antibodies (i.e. exposure to SARS-CoV-2).

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I better clarify, ” roughly 25% of the populace has been totally asymptomatic” should read “25% of the sampled population”. That can be extrapolated to the population at large.

        Seroprevalence studies indicate that “we” are a long way from herd immunity which requires 65% of the populace to be exposed. The added implication is that the current death rates are tied to only 5% of the population being exposed.

        Unless we sample everyone on a routine basis, we don’t know who is a carrier and who is resistant. Distancing and other precautions are currently the only mitigation measures available.

  • avatar
    Ryannosaurus

    My last comment either didn’t take, or was removed. Possible it was removed because I was critical of Tim and his blatant use of the word “morons” for people that have a higher risk tolerance than him. Anyways, this is just a test to see if the comment section is working for me.

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