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4 Burning Questions: NASCAR Needs to Answer Before a ‘Coronarace’

Editor’s Note: This column was originally posted on April 24, 2020. Since then, NASCAR has officially announced they’ll return to the track effective May 17 at Darlington Raceway. More details can be found here.

How exactly would testing work?

The first to throw their hats into the idea of NASCAR holding a race, beside Florida governor Rob DeSantis, was the state of Texas and racetrack Texas Motor Speedway.

When asked about concerns about holding a NASCAR race during this current pandemic, TMS track president Not Humpy Wheeler had this response:

Sounds great, right? Well, guess what he meant?

Yes, that’s right. Not Humpy Wheeler thinks that temperature checks would serve as tests for COVID-19. A virus that shows ample proof of being able to spread asymptomatically, or in other words, it can be spread before the carrier’s temperature goes up.

For the record, Not Humpy Wheeler, whose track decided to retweet this on Tuesday night, was quoted by The Athletic that he would be holding events with the input of “medical folk.” No specific “medical folk” were named in his quotes. Which would be a very important thing to know, considering he thinks temperature checks would be the key to holding a race.

If any racetrack decided that actual coronavirus tests would be the answer, there are two big problems with that. Number one would be that there are not enough tests in this country right now. We’re testing an estimated 143,000 per day, a laughably small number considering our overall population size of over 300 million people. We’re really going to take 500 of those tests so that we could have NASCAR races? This is the hill NASCAR is going to die on?

But let’s put all of this aside. Let’s say that Not Humpy Wheeler can wave his magic wand and get those 500 tests. That’s where the second test problem comes in: false-negatives. If I had coronavirus and tested for the disease, there’s a not insignificant chance of getting a false negative. Even if a racetrack could get its hands on the quick, top-of-the-line tests the White House uses, it would still be looking at a 15% false-negative rate. At best, there’s less chance of hitting a four on a dice roll. Now imagine rolling 500 dice and not one of them coming up as a four.

All right, let’s say the tests are foolproof, a 100% accuracy rate. Somebody tests positive. Now what? They had no interaction with their co-workers on the trip over there? What if a crew chief tests positive, then their car chief? What if a driver tested positive? These are questions that apparently decision makers are not asking themselves, because just taking temperatures with COVID-19 is the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

Would local resources be wasted on a NASCAR race?

When a NASCAR race occurs, there need to be ambulances and EMTs on site in case of an emergency. The Ryan Newman situation two months is a perfect example of why this must be done.

Under this pandemic, that would be a waste of valuable medical resources. What’s more is that we’re beginning to see doctors and nurses getting infected with the disease, per NBC. So once again, these EMTs may be carrying the virus if they have to go out onto the track and assist a driver out of their vehicle, once again leading to possible transmission of the virus.

If a race happens with no fans in attendance, having known NASCAR fans, there’s no way there wouldn’t be a crowd outside of the track regardless while a race is going on. So racetracks would need police to be on patrol to attempt to enforce social distancing. aka, another local resource that would best be served elsewhere.

Basically, the idea of racing cars around an oval is an extremely selfish act on the part of NASCAR. People are dying in the thousands every single day from this virus, and yet they believe the rules shouldn’t apply to them. Right now, MLB and NBA are brainstorming ideas of how to save their seasons, but they’re just that — ideas. They haven’t outright lobbied for a return to normal, and that’s because they understand that the last thing this country needs right now is more strain on its medical system.

What about just the pure logistics end of it?

On Thursday, April 23, NASCAR teams finally got the go-ahead from the governor of North Carolina:

OK, that’s one fairly easy hurdle to jump over compared to actually holding a race. But it’s still a hurdle. For one thing, as per Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, most of the big teams are based in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties. One of them, Mecklenburg, just extended their stay-at-home order until May 9. And it’s definitely not a guarantee that that order isn’t extended again at some point.

Race shops are back in action though! Yay! Except that doesn’t constitute the entire industry. Road And Track reporter Bozi Tatarevic pointed out in a Twitter thread that there are a number of parts suppliers and manufacturers not based in North Carolina. Tatarevic in particular pointed out Toyota, which builds its TRD engines in California and then ships them to Joe Gibbs Racing.

There’s no chance California is opening up anytime soon, and I’d be extremely surprised if they deem racecar engines as essential business. There are workarounds; engines could conceivably be built for now in Joe Gibbs Racing’s old engine shop with a skeleton crew of people. But it’s not going to be easy whatsoever to just restart a top-of-the-line engine program for five racecars in just a month’s time. And that’s just one supplier out-of-state.

It has been very clear that NASCAR wouldn’t have a full, complete race if the sport comes back right now. Track time may be very limited, and there definitely would not be any live pit stops. At that point, why even come back from a competition standpoint? Anybody who wins a coronarace would have an asterisk next to their stats.

If you thought NASCAR fans were mad enough about Kyle Busch winning over 200 NASCAR races, just wait for him to win the coronaraces and just add that to his stat controversies. These wouldn’t be pure Cup events; they’d be fill-in, watered-down, potentially life-threatening races where there’s a competition caution every 20 minutes because there’s no live pit stops and they’re on a green racetrack with no tire wear.

How do you spin this to the public?

For the reasons above, it’s just an awful look in general for NASCAR to be running races during a global pandemic.

Look at the people who have promoted events or who have tried in vain to promote events. WWE was declared an essential business in Florida, and it got plenty of media criticism for that. It is also going to get a fair amount of heat for laying off a number of roster talents last week before reporting a giant first quarter profit this week, with the vast majority of its income being guaranteed television money.

UFC has been a complete circus. Short of Not Humpy Wheeler announcing the creation of Texas Motor Speedway Island, nobody is going to come out of this crisis looking worse than Dana White. Literally just Google “Dana White Coronavirus” and read all of the ways White has bungled this entire situation.

The disadvantage NASCAR has compared to those two companies is that it is perceived as being more legitimate than either of them in the eyes of the sports world, especially compared to pro wrestling. It’s less underground, with more high-brow sponsorship. While WWE was criticized, it’s fair to say that a NASCAR comeback would be criticized on a much larger level.

Instead of pie-in-the-sky ideas, what the industry needs to do is come together (not physically, of course) and lobby to Congress for a specific relief bill or provision. The money in this bailout would primarily go to race teams to stay afloat, as well as recently laid-off crew members who have nothing coming in.

While the industry would just join the chorus of lobbyist and special interest groups who have undoubtedly descended on Washington in the wake of this pandemic, they are in a very unique situation. Racing in general is made up primarily of small businesses; I don’t think half of the truck grid has more than 50 employees to their respective race teams. One side of the aisle loves NASCAR, while the other loves to help small businesses. It shouldn’t be that hard to make it work in Congress.

I’d love to get back to racing as soon as possible. But scheduling a race right now just isn’t realistic and definitely doesn’t take into account all outstanding factors. NASCAR should focus on trying to help its teams out during this crisis rather than contributing to the crisis, which would happen if it holds races right now.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    I totally agree with everything you have said. Racing must wait until this is over.

  2. Avatar

    ? Poorest reporting / personal opinion I have seen anywhere on this world situation. 100% personal opinion with no medical evidence. This person who can be classified as less of a media member than the WWE personnel says NASCAR would be wasting critical medical resources. Evidence? None. For this to be credible in any ways, it should quote doctor hospital executives in the local area about how their medical resources are strained.

    Shame

  3. Avatar

    will corona become the official beer of nascar?!

  4. Avatar

    And yet, last year (and every year) they suited up in February and raced without a care in the world about the 34K that died in the U.S. from the boring old flu. After all, the flu isn’t contagious, right? I don’t know, perhaps the media missed it?

    • Avatar

      if flu weren’t contagious why is there an annual vaccine that is given to boost immunity against it?

      think back to years gone by and how in late feb, until may drivers will complain of flu.

      what people forget about is the driver’s body goes through a lot in the course of a race with dehydration.

      be interesting to see what all happens if and when the circus resumes.

  5. Avatar

    What you might be forgetting is that this might not be OVER for a couple of years (maybe more). I can do without NASCAR forever if that’s the way the wind blows, but can NASCAR wait that long?

  6. Avatar

    One other question…. at what point will it be OK?
    A) Only when there is less than a 50% chance of catching it?
    B) Only when there is a less than 25% chance of catching it?
    C) Only when there is a less than 10% chance of catching it?
    D) Only when there is a zero % chance of catching it? (Note: Even a vaccine won’t do that)

    Personally, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to tell others that need to work or go bankrupt/homeless/hungry at what point I would ALLOW them to work.

    Please weigh in and be free to ad-lib your own ideas. I promise, this is my last post on this article, so I won’t be the one challenging your comment.

  7. Avatar

    Two tracks in South Dakota are opening up this weekend. I think it is a pretty bad idea, but I guess we will see how it works out?

  8. Avatar

    I love that you kept referring to Eddie Gossage as Not Humpy Wheeler. The guy’s a legend in his own mind.

  9. Avatar

    Re-runs on Frontstretch?

    • Avatar

      Yeah – now they are re-running their articles -and could have picked much better than this! Can’t believe how negative the majority of the Frontstretch writers are.

  10. Avatar

    Wow, Yes alot have to be answered but if we dont do ANYTHING.. EVEN to try it will be far worse than just some people dead. Most people are verge of killing themselves MORE family abuse is happening, more people are angry at govenors controling their lives to much. ANd too much Money is dishing out and same time LATE or going into wrong hands. AT what point do you, accept when races will be happening. By the time the fear mongering is over. Most to all business will be gone, jobs are gone people will die regardless of corono do you have any outside the box what is happening outside of people that have it made currently? People are starving afraid scared homeless jobless, that causes people to freak OUT. Nascar all them will go broke so goodbye to racing i rather have half a race or some race but have them safe as they can be e ven at their own HOMES their not safe people can transmit it anyway. Its gonna happen regardless where you are the key is to slow the spread and warmer months are somewhat helping. But some point people get tired of staying at home locked up your fine without nascar or may want to be contained but many jobs work and people have a different mind set than you. Some people tho if right or wrong rather die doing what they love than die shut in some people arent meant o be contained to long they need out side something to live. Its like a rock and a hard ball you cant keep all people in and know their jobless get fired cant provide the IRS is slow and messing up on $ stimulus and everything. GOt to take it in containment the best thing to do is do your best, trump is doing his best. This is unlike other dieases per say. All i know is there has to be a time to open safely the best you can i want racing as long as their safe as can be. But at some point you got to get it going or all will go broke and while you say f nascar all nascar teams be at your home saying thanks now we are jobless broke and thanks alot!! Most be saying horible stuff to people who dont see the other coin side. Sometimes got to take risks after a while when people are closed in to much they as humans panic and lose control.

    its time to try to keep people safe and give it their best shot to at least get these drivers a job again once again get paid and once again try hard to be safe when at any moment you can have or had this diease either way it will find you and you have no choice. the best to do is just do what you can be safe as can and try hard to slowly but safely at best your ability to live keey world “Live’ the best way you can even if shorten races etc just to make sure you get a race something to cheer for at least also same time these drivers get paid money is spread. The more yo u hide it will be even worse like said Nascar go broke teams go broke more anger more fear more distruction most people more violence more crime more anger more fear its a snowball you can be quarrentine but at a point people are gonna die MORE than virus when treated like babies to long shut down afarid jobless broke once face that it will happen to you. Things need to try to reopen slowly safely as you can no matter what you decide you be in the shoes of the choice .

    Either keep nascar and all towns shutdown and deal with people hate you for them being jobless killing each other murdering each other etc etc. More jobs broke and more and more unemployment.

    Or other virus be affecting everyone maybe or not all but maybe all. Either or isnt good think about it either way .. Its not good you ha ve to pick the best option for all Americans cant think just your own viewpoint tho both can be bad… One is worse than the other. I think the more worse of the 2 evils is shut down far longer no help aid no real $ spreading its just getting worse and that is worse than the deaths somethings you got to pick between 2 evils i mean think…. What would you pick and know you got 300 + millions counting on YOU to save them. What would you do?

    • Avatar

      Mike, your post is pretty strange and you need to maybe chill out quite a bit. Restarting the country too soon is a horrible mistake and can cause 1,000’s of unneeded deaths. Racing really isn’t that important.