Following an estimated crowd of 25k showing up to last week’s NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway and around a similar crowd that came to witness last Sunday’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway, three of the next four races will go back to taking place behind closed doors.
Tonight’s race at the Kansas Speedway will be without fans, so will the doubleheader weekend at the Michigan International Speedway in a couple of weeks. Only the race next Sunday afternoon at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway will host fans between now and the next three weeks.
For a couple of drivers, these are their home tracks. Clint Bowyer grew up in Emporia, Kansas, not too far from the 1.5-mile track that we will race at on Thursday night. Erik Jones grew up 90 minutes from the track in Michigan. Both will head “home” but do so without any guests of friends or family.
“Going back to Kansas, I always love going back there,” Bowyer said. “Obviously it is going to be drastically different not having fans. That is what put this sport on the map. That is what has kept it on the map all these years and without that, it is just a void that can’t be replaced.
“Are we putting a product on the race track? Yes. Are there people at home watching? Yes, the ratings show that and these are the things keeping us alive and relevant. I think the rest of the sporting world is fixin’ to see first hand just like we have experienced in the last few months the difference and challenges and impact of not having that fan presence there. It isn’t just the presence, it is the atmosphere and your event. Without that it isn’t quite the event that it could be or should be or would be.”
Bowyer, says he’s always excited to go back home to Kansas but going to be weird to not do the normal things he would be doing when he’s back in his homestate.
“Always exciting to go back home, it’s home. I mean, it’s literally that way,” Bowyer continued. “I mean we all experienced that a lot of people move away from home, going to college chasing their dreams, get a job, whatever. It’s always fun to go back home and see things and for me, having family now and having kids it’s fun for me kind of like I did with my parents to go back and see them and show them something about where you came from.
“That being said Kansas City kicks ass. It just does and I’m not saying that as far as pride of being from Kansas I mean I can anybody in the garage area goes to Kansas City and every single one of them are blowing up your phone I mean, where’s the hotspot where’s the barbecue joint to go to? It’s like, dude, all of them. All of them are knocking it out of the park and you know the power and light district and the sporting, I mean, it’s you can’t ask for a better time to be in any city than right now in Kansas City. And you know, the track, I’ve said time and time again, so proud of … we talk about the puzzle in our sport and all pieces of the puzzle have to come together.
“I mean just look at the impact in Wyandotte County when they put that piece of the puzzle at Kansas Speedway in there. Awesome part of town and going from Lakeside Speedway growing up over there and racing over there. So proud to call that place home and to see what’s happened because of that. Met so many good friends over the years and you know, just had a good winter. I saw Mahomes and Kelce over to Lake and got with them a day and had fun with them. And, you know, Eric Stonestreet got a new place over there and sent me pictures. Who would ever thought he’d enjoy fishing and everything he’s been doing on his lake. It is just a really good place to be from and to enjoy and looking forward to bringing in our sport there once again. Another thing about it is I think that the city embraces our sport well. When I go across the country, part of that’s our doing and and on us to be able to promote our sport and do that, but honestly, if you have something and you’re valid and relevant, the city embraces that and I see a lot of NASCAR when we come into town.”
Same can be said in a couple of weeks for Jones. He usually plays hosts to several friends and family members, but with both race weekend’s being combined to one and that one weekend not having fans, it’s a missed opportunity for him.
“It’s kind of a bummer because I do get a lot of family out there and usually try to get a setup to where they can hang out and tailgate, that’s always really fun,” said Jones. “We usually have 40 or 50 guests come out to that race and watch either from the grandstands or somewhere in the infield and it’s an opportunity for a lot of friends and family that I have to come out and watch a race because they all are from that area and they can’t travel to some of the races that we go to that are farther away.
“It’s a cool congregation and getting to usually spend the week up there ahead of time visiting friends and family is always a lot of fun and getting to catch up with everybody that I hadn’t seen through the year. When we’re in our season, it’s pretty crazy and we don’t have a lot of time to spend with friends and family so it’s cool to just have an opportunity to catch up with them. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to have as much this time. It’s definitely a bummer in a lot of ways, but I guess the other side of it, I understand why we don’t have fans there. I wish we could, but hopefully next year we can come back and have fans back in the stands.”