Revisiting No-Fan NASCAR

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
revisiting no fan nascar

A while back, I penned a piece describing my mixed feelings about NASCAR running without fans during the pandemic.

Now, a few weeks on, I have a bit more clarity.

I was worried that even with NASCAR’s safety protocols in place, the coronavirus might spread among crew. I was also worried about contact between the safety crews and a driver after a crash that could lead to virus spread (this worry didn’t make the final edit).

Still, I didn’t think it would be as weird to be fan-less than it would be for other sports. NASCAR fan noise is usually drowned out by the roar of the engines, and some tracks draw sparse crowds anyway.

On that count, I was right – the broadcast experience hasn’t been too strange, whether a race is completely sans fans or a small amount of fans are allowed in with social distancing in mind (as has happened once or twice this season).

In fact, I’m enjoying the relative sense of normalcy the racing has brought. Yes, the absence of fans is noticeable, but the cars are just as fast and loud as before, the racing just as compelling. And so far, as far as I know, the safety protocols have helped keep the virus at bay. NASCAR appears to have experienced one COVID case involving a NASCAR employee in March, while a few non-traveling employees of Stewart-Hass tested positive more recently.

Thus far, no one involved in travel to tracks or who has otherwise attended a race in person has tested positive, at least as far as can be ascertained from public reports.

Racing is a unique sport – the drivers are socially distanced while in their cars, and at some tracks, fans will be able to socially distance if they’re allowed in, due to the large size of tracks and the properties they occupy.

You couldn’t pay me to go to a bar right now, but I’d consider paying for IndyCar at Road America, assuming I could stay outdoors and away from strangers. The distance part is possible at RA, but the best viewing spots do get crowded, so I’m on the fence about attending. Still, the fact I’d even consider it speaks to racing’s uniqueness.

On the other hand, I’ve heard reports that the Indy 500 will still have a sizeable crowd, and that concerns me. Hopefully, the organizers can keep people safely apart.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, thinking of fans at the races. For now, I’ve been happy to see some sort of live sports back, and NASCAR and other forms of racing might just be safer, in terms of virus spread, than other sports. I thought golf would be, too, but the PGA has suffered a spate of recent positive tests.

I still miss the fans, and I still can’t wait for the day that full crowds can be safely admitted to the grandstands. But whether it’s because I’m desperate for sports, or because NASCAR has been safe (and lucky) so far, or because I’m simply rediscovering the race fan in me, I’m feeling better about racing returning to the track during a pandemic. Better than I feel about other sports.

I also wrote this: “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.”

I’m still not sure how I feel about sports taking place while the pandemic rages on, especially here in the U.S., where the numbers are still bad. But I’m leaning towards the distraction element as being a good thing. NASCAR being on TV won’t save lives or heal the sick, but it gives a mental health boost to those of us stuck at home, whether we’re home to avoid catching the virus or because we’re fighting a case of it.

If NASCAR garners better-than-usual TV ratings because of it, so be it. It may seem weird for a corporation to take advantage of a pandemic to possibly profit, but it’s doubtful NASCAR brass would prefer it that way. NASCAR simply got lucky that its sport lends itself to social distancing, and therefore it can give us those of us with now nonexistent social lives some semblance of entertainment – and a small reminder of normalcy.

The world is still, metaphorically speaking, on fire. If watching cars go in circles at high speeds for three hours takes our minds off of that, well, that’s probably more of a good thing than bad.

NASCAR, like all sports, is better with fans in attendance. But for now, I’ll take it as is.

As Darrell Waltrip said: “Boogity, boogity, boogity.”

[Image: Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock]

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  • Hondaaustin Hondaaustin on Jun 30, 2020

    I just wish I could walk across the street to IMS this weekend for an awesome line-up of racing... but unfortunately, no fans this weekend...maybe someone will let me in. (Yes, I live across the street from the speedway.)

  • Old_WRX Old_WRX on Jul 01, 2020

    Has anyone actually heard where they came up with 6 feet as the safe distance? I've seen two studies of how far contagion can travel. Several years ago I saw a study done on how far contagion can travel from a sneeze or cough (?); the conclusion of that study was: 30 feet. A study I saw more recently concluded 23 to 27 feet. I have yet to see or hear any objective info suggesting that 6 feet of physical distance is....

    • Carlisimo Carlisimo on Jul 02, 2020

      It's based on how far droplets above some size (5 or 20 µm to 100 µm) travel before landing when someone breathes or talks normally. The 6 ft figure has been used for years, usually in the context of the flu. Coughs and sneezes do send them out something like 30 ft - if you're going out with symptoms like that, heavens help everybody else. Shouting and and singing are a little worse than 6 ft; I remember reading that after a choir superspreader event.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
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