CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR plans to restart its engines with a flurry of activity at two historic tracks.
The stock car racing sanctioning body revealed more detailed plans Thursday regarding its intended resumption of competition amid the coronavirus pandemic, following up on Tuesday's news that it would return in May with a quartet of races on its top-tier Cup Series — two each at South Carolina's Darlington Raceway and North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR announced Thursday that its Cup Series race on May 17 at Darlington will be the first of seven events in an 11-day stretch across its three national series.
"Events are going to look different than they have in the past," said John Bobo, NASCAR's vice president of racing operations.
NASCAR will hold the events using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing and personal protective equipment. The entire venue will be used to maintain distancing in garage stalls and where the haulers are parked, and drivers will have to isolate in their motorhomes as they prepare to compete.
"Our priority right now is to try and get back racing in a safe way," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's chief racing development officer.
NASCAR follows mixed martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship as the first major sports organizations to get back to work since the pandemic shut down competition in the United States in mid-March. The Professional Bull Racing Series resumed competition last weekend, and there has been some horse racing without spectators.
NASCAR's revised schedule goes only through May and has a pair of Wednesday races for the Cup Series, fulfilling fans' longtime plea for midweek events. The first of those will be at Darlington, three days after the return race at the 70-year-old, egg-shaped oval.
Charlotte Motor Speedway will then host the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 to mark 60 consecutive years of the longest race on the NASCAR schedule being held on Memorial Day weekend. The track in Concord, near NASCAR's home base of Charlotte, will then host its own Wednesday race three days later.
There also will be second-tier Xfinity Series and third-tier Truck Series races at the two tracks. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that the races at CMS can be held as long as health conditions in the area do not deteriorate.
"This has been a proactive effort to put our motorsports industry back to work and boost the morale of sports fans around the world," said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. He said "sports fans around the world need this, a return to some sense of normalcy with live sports on TV, and NASCAR is uniquely positioned to deliver it from a competition standpoint."
NASCAR suspended its season March 13 with only four of its 36 scheduled Cup Series races completed. Heavily reliant on television money and sponsor payments, NASCAR has vowed to complete its full schedule in 2020. The revised schedule for now stays at tracks within driving distance of Charlotte-based race teams and in states that have started reopening.
O'Donnell said NASCAR wanted to get seven events completed within driving distance of North Carolina before it resumes competition in states that require air travel and hotels.
NASCAR — which has tried to stay in the public mind with iRacing, a surprise ratings hit that has also had a downside — has completed a fully revised schedule but would not reveal it Thursday because so much relies on the pandemic and guidelines in different states.
Darlington will now have three coveted Cup Series races for the first time in track history — it is also scheduled to open the playoffs with the Southern 500 on Sept. 6. Because the track now has two additional dates, NASCAR will lose two Cup Series races from its other properties. The same goes for Speedway Motorsports, which gained one additional race so far and will have to forfeit one at another facility.
"For the couple tracks where we need to move an event, we want to do that in the right way," O'Donnell said. "We just want to take a little time here before we're able to announce that."
Almost all teams began returning to their shops this week with either a reduced initial workforce or in split shifts. Now that NASCAR has told the teams where it will be racing this month, they can start preparing cars suitable for the two tracks.
Although Florida and Texas invited NASCAR to compete in those states without spectators, the sanctioning body is holding off on announcing races there because of the travel required.