INDIANAPOLIS — NASCAR is back. On Thursday, NASCAR unveiled their plans to restarting their season back up again. In two weeks (May 17), the NASCAR Cup Series will race in South Carolina at the Darlington Raceway. That would mark the end of a 70 day layoff that basically started on the evening of Sunday, March 8.
We didn’t know it then, but when Joey Logano crossed the finish line first on that afternoon in Phoenix Raceway, that would be the last we’d see of a race car for 10 weeks. The teams all packed up and headed back east not knowing then what would come three days later. See, the excitement of the 2020 NASCAR Season was high. We saw thrilling races for Daytona Speedweeks which included the largest attended Daytona 500 in years which also included a visit from President Donald Trump as well. We also saw a frightening last lap crash involving Ryan Newman but one that just under 48 hours later he was able to walk out of the hospital under his own power. We consequentially saw upwards of trends in TV ratings and attendance for the four races run up until that point.
NASCAR was back! Then, they weren’t.
Wednesday, March 11 came. That’s when the sporting world and the entire landscape of the United States took a hit. COVID-19 made its way to our shores and crippled the entire 3.80 million squares miles of this great country. The NCAA Tournament would get announced late that afternoon that they wouldn’t host games with fans in the stands. Then, NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus later that night and halted the league in their tracks. They suspended their season immediately and still have no real plans on returning.
All other sporting leagues around the world followed suit, NASCAR included. On Friday, March 13, they decided to postpone their upcoming race weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As the spread got faster and the states shutting down, NASCAR had no other choice to fall in line and postpone their next seven races too as the weeks of fear went on. Atlanta, Homestead, Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Martinsville were all affected and forced off their originally scheduled race weekends.
North Carolina, the state where most of these teams are based, had a stay-at-home order in place, which meant teams couldn’t work. The sport was deemed “non essential.”
But, as weeks went on further, the spread of the virus started to slow. The social distancing measures and mitigation that was put in place was actually working. As the damaged was able to get assessed, we quickly found that not only was health a major concern, but focusing that way we lost focus on our economy. It took a large hit too.
We needed to get back to work, but how can you do so in the middle of a pandemic? The virus isn’t going anywhere. It’s still out there. We’re just not out there playing with it. If you allow us to all come back out again, it will prey on our helpless bodies all over again and spread further, maybe even quicker. There’s not a vaccine and won’t be in 2020. So, with no real guarantee that the death totals that are currently at the time of this story over 228k worldwide and almost 62k here in the United States wouldn’t rise further, you can’t let everyone just go back to “normal” like we were on March 10.
So, how can you get economies back open? Well, you do so in phases. Social distancing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we have to adapt to that. One of the things to help is the sporting world, but how can you conduct sporting events while also staying apart?
That’s where racing comes in.
Racing can be run without sharing a ball. In basketball, 10 players are on the court at any given time. They’re sweating and sharing a ball. In baseball, there’s 18 players in the game for nine innings. They’re sharing a ball. Football has 22 players on the field all the time (11 on offense, 11 on defense) and they’re running and smashing into each other for 15 minutes over the course of four quarters.
It’s kind of hard to play those games with the risk of those players getting infected. Then, if you quarantine them between games, they will be away from their families for months. There’s not a realistic opportunity for them to resume, even without fans in the stands.
For racing, they can mitigate better. They can alter their schedules to just one-day shows. They can eliminate practice and qualifying. That limits the amount of personnel needed on site. So, in order to do that, you need local tracks near Charlotte, North Carolina. Good news for them, there’s a track in Charlotte as well as several others within a couple of hours driving distance from there.
Darlington Raceway in South Carolina is close, hence the first race back. Atlanta Motor Speedway is close. So is the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. So is Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
That’s why the schedule unveiled today looks the way it does. But, how did it get planned? How did we get from March 13 to April 30?
It’s simple, those tracks make millions based off NASCAR’s TV deal. The terms are $8.2 billion over the course of 10 years paid by NBC Sports and Fox Sports. That equates out to over $800 million per season. That $800 million is then distributed from NASCAR to the teams and tracks too. Teams get a reported 25-percent of that pie. Tracks get an even larger portion to eat with.
So, even without fans in the stands, the teams and tracks are making millions of NASCAR coming, even if it’s just for one-day. That in turn helps the local economies even without the hotel or restaurant revenue from the traveling circus using them. The money received from the tracks can be shared with their state legislature.
Get where I’m going with this now?
NASCAR is the only racing series with a deal like this. IndyCar for example can’t pay out a TV deal to tracks because it’s not large enough.
So, with tracks in mind that are willing to host without fans and TV on board, NASCAR then needed government help. Remember, the government wants to reopen, so it shouldn’t be a problem and it wasn’t.
States need to welcome NASCAR back albeit without fans. South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Texas and others have started doing so. That opens up those tracks I mentioned above.
Then, NASCAR needed help from North Carolina to deem them essential. Right now, there’s stay-at-home orders through early May. NASCAR shops are closed because they’re not essential. It’s easy to have TV onboard, states opening up to welcome them and plans in place to resume, but it’s hard to do that without race cars.
Last Thursday, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper moved NASCAR to “essential” and allowed them to get back to work. That was the final straw in this process to make it happen. Seven days later, we have a concrete plan in place.