Eyes Of The Nation Will Be Fixed On Darlington When NASCAR Returns In May

Eyes Of The Nation Will Be Fixed On Darlington When NASCAR Returns In May

by May 4, 2020 0 comments

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said that NASCAR’s return to the track, Too Tough To Tame in May will be historic.

He is without a doubt, correct. In more ways than one.

On Sunday, May 17, NASCAR will become the first major American sports organization to host an event since the country went into a form of quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the nation and the world. The event’s location? The small town of Darlington, South Carolina that is home to only about 6,000 people citywide and a little more than 66,000 countywide; however, the eyes of the nation will be on Darlington Raceway for an array of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is because the 400-mile race will be the only live sporting event being broadcast. While it’s nostalgic to watch replays of old NASCAR races and MLB games on our favorite sports channels, it’s going to be even more exciting to watch history being made live. I’m sure that FOX’s television ratings will be through the roof. Maybe the sport will even gain some new fans as well.

NASCAR is certainly hoping that history will repeat itself, and no, I’m not talking about the Spanish Flu from 1918 – 1919. If you don’t know the story, back in 1979, the Daytona 500 was broadcast live on CBS for the very first time from start-to-finish. What made the event so significant to NASCAR’s history is that much of the country, particularly the Northeast was snowed in due to a blizzard. Well, with nothing else to do, people turned their television sets on to the race. Of course, the fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500 provided a great deal of added material to the coverage.

Fast forward to 2020. While the country may not be at a standstill, travel and entertainment options are certainly being hindered and well, hopefully fans will turn their televisions and smart devices on to watch the race in the small Carolina town. Who knows? Now that Matt Kenseth is returning to competition to replace Kyle Larson at Chip Ganassi Racing, maybe he and rival Joey Logano will go at it  and fight once again at the end of the 400-mile race in a few weeks at Darlington.

Another reason why the world will be paying attention to the race in Darlington is because everyone is incredibly curious to see how NASCAR will carry out the event. It’s a given that race fans will not be in the grandstands, but how will NASCAR actually operate the event? Those answers will certainly be of interest to other sports organizations like the MLB and NFL that are hoping to even have a 2020 season.

“We realize up front it’s a huge responsibility for us as a sport,” said NASCAR’s Executive Vice President, Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “But I’m also confident in the group we’ve gathered to put this plan together. Our entire industry has come together to believe in the plan we’ve put together. We’re certainly going to learn as we go. But the process we put in place I think gives the industry the confidence that we can be first, we can do this in Darlington.”

While the situation is very fluid and can certainly change, maybe even on race day, we do know a few facts and of course, ideas that are floating around.

Anyone entering the tunnel at Darlington Raceway will have their temperature taken and will be required to wear a cloth mask. Temperatures will be taken randomly throughout the event as well.

“Symptomatic patients will be processed and removed from the event and given medical attention if needed,” said NASCAR’s Vice President of Racing Operations, John Bobo. “We’ll be doing that outside the infield care center to protect the integrity of the infield care center for emergency operations during the race. Post-race we’re going to stagger people’s exits. We’ll be looking at temperature and other factors as they leave. We’re also requiring all the teams to disinfect as needed and we’ll even seal haulers and things like that to make sure as they go to the next event they’re safe.”

A rumor that was floating around was that there weren’t going to be any live pit stops. That rumor will not come to fruition. In a teleconference, O’Donnell confirmed that there will be live pit stops, but there won’t be any practice or qualifying.

“The 17th we’ll open up at Darlington, 400‑mile race,” O’Donnell said. “That race will include live pit stops. It was important for us to be able to showcase a race as close to what normally takes place as possible. But it was also important for us to minimize what activity took place leading up to the event. That’s why we don’t have practice or qualifying prior to that event.”

Teams will only have a roster that consists of 16 individuals, including the driver. The pit crew members who will jump over the wall to service the race cars will be required to wear either a fireproof sock mask that goes from their nose to their chin or a face screen that goes from their eyes to below their chin. This is very important, because a pit box is generally a small space, so the recommended six feet apart to help limit the spread of COVID-19 would be impossible. However, spotters who generally stand high above the racetrack will be spaced six to 10 feet apart from each other. They may not necessarily be standing on the spotter’s stand either. To add to all of that, NASCAR recommends that anyone who is included in the road crew, not return to the race shop for the time being. NASCAR is doing everything in its power to keep groups of people who share a similar role lumped together and not have them intermingle with other groups.

“Since there will be no spectators, no fans in the infield, we’ll be able to use the entire infield to space out and socially distance,” Bobo said. “We’ll be able to space out the car garages, not just the Cup garage, but the Xfinity and Gander Outdoor garage as well. We’ll have drivers’ motor coaches there, but not in a driver/owner lot. We’re spreading those out to provide a place for drivers to self‑isolate during the day.

“Our two big things are social distancing and the other is compartmentalization. With social distancing, we’re going to have one‑way walkways for people, our rules strictly enforced. If people aren’t complying with our rules for masks and social distancing, they will be removed from the premises. If we have someone in the broadcast lot, they have no business in the garage, they don’t need to come into the garage, and vice versa. We need to keep people out of work areas they might not normally get into.”

As for a post-race celebration for the race winner, NASCAR hasn’t confirmed on how that will play out. More than likely, there will be some sort of a celebration around the start-finish line and not in the tight-knit Victory Lane. There will be a trophy, however.

The 400-mile race will be followed by a NASCAR Xfinity Series race on May 19 (FS1 at 8 p.m.) at Darlington Raceway, as well as an encore 500-kilometer (310-mile) NASCAR Cup Series race on May 20 (FS1 7:30 p.m.).

Darlington Raceway is set to host the 71st running of the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, and NASCAR has confirmed that the Playoff race’s date won’t be affected by these additional dates.

The upcoming 400-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway will broadcast live on FOX and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 17.

Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com

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