NASCAR is ready to reopen to fans.
One of the few sports to run in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR will soon be the largest to allow fans to return as more states relax their business and social activity shutdowns.
NASCAR decided a limited number of fans can attend races this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida and Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. NASCAR said all fans will be screened before entering, required to wear face coverings, mandated to social distance at six feet and will not have access to the infield, among other revised operational protocols.
NASCAR will allow up to 1,000 Florida service members, representing the Homestead Air Reserve Base and U.S. Southern Command in Doral, to attend the Cup Series race Sunday as honorary guests and view the race from the grandstands.
Talladega Superspeedway will allow up to 5,000 guests in the front stretch grandstands and towers for the June 21 Cup Series race. There will be limited motorhome and camping spots available outside the track, with track officials stipulating that those who attend must live within 150 miles of the track in Alabama.
"It's a cautious, conservative approach," said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer. "We feel confident in our plan. Also it doesn't mean that we won't also have additional learnings and adapt our plan going forward. That's the whole purpose of being very slow, methodical in phasing this in."
NASCAR has returned to racing, but had not allowed fans inside the tracks in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, the four states in which it has competed since last month.
"We're going to have a lot of hand sanitizing, hand washing," said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. "One of the things that I'm kind of proud of to see is we're going to have a clean team, a clean team that's at track constantly cleaning everything very visibly for every guest that's there to know we're doing everything we can to keep them safe. We feel confident in the plan."
Bobo declined to reveal if NASCAR has had anyone test positive for COVID-19 since racing resumed May 17 at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway. AMA Supercross said earlier this month no one tested positive for the virus when it resumed with 705 cyclists, team members and race officials on site.
The Cup Series race Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia and a doubleheader weekend June 27-28 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania will be held without fans.
NASCAR said it was prepared to handle the increased crowds. Wolfe said there could be limited hospitality at Talladega.
"We're going to have PPE (personal protective equipment) there for fans if they didn't bring their own," Bobo said. "We're going to instruct fans to do it. Then staff is also going to make sure that we do have compliance in that area when needed, politely."
Talladega tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis to fans who purchased tickets or reserved camping for the originally scheduled April 26 race. There will be limited menus and limited food preparation on site.
NASCAR had set regulations to safely hold the events using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing and PPE. The venues were completely used to maintain distancing in garage stalls and where the haulers are parked, and drivers self-isolate in their motorhomes as they prepare to compete.
"We really miss our fans, but, at the same time, we're with our fans," 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano said. "Before the races start and you're on pit road and you don't have any fans around you, you can't hear any cheering or booing from driver's intros, or everyone getting all fired up before they say, 'Drivers, start your engines.' We don't have that part, but when the race starts, the race starts and you're kind of in the zone and you don't notice it."