Charlotte Motor Speedway is certainly no stranger to racing. For over 60 years, fans and drivers alike have flocked by the masses to take in some of the best auto racing America has to offer. Races like the Coca-Cola 600, the All-Star Race (before its move in 2020) and the Bank of America ROVAL 400 have all been instant classics.
Just recently, the speedway welcomed a completely different race to its facility. This one isn’t soundtracked by the rumblings of excessive horsepower. Instead, the speedway is potentially playing host to the most important race of our lives: the vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As COVID-19 vaccines slowly trickle out across the county, an urgency has arisen to rapidly vaccinate the mass public to reach herd immunity. So far, medical professionals have found it difficult to quickly and efficiently serve their populations in massive capacities. Thus, they are resorting to some pretty creative methods.
“If you want to roll through thousands of vaccines, you go to a place that can do a pit stop in 12 seconds,” Atrium Health’s director of the Division of Operational and Disaster Medicine Dr. David Callaway tells Frontstretch.
Make that 16,000 pit stops.
This past weekend (Jan 22-24), the Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health, led by Callaway, successfully distributed 16,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to pre-registered citizens over the age of 65 at the speedway. It was North Carolina’s largest-to-date mass vaccination event. It was done in the same garage area where racecars are prepped and tuned before they hit the track.
In motorsports terms, the patients arrived at the speedway in their personal vehicles and were led double-file around the apron by the pace car to the infield garages, where Atrium’s team distributed the vaccine. After inoculation, patients were observed in their own vehicles for 15 minutes for any potential adverse side effects before being released.
The event was the first of its magnitude in the deep south. As the United States closes in upon the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the country, large sporting facilities have suddenly been thrust into the spotlight to become mass vaccination centers thanks to their mass capacities and pre-existing resources.
Although CMS’s next large-scale event (the Coca-Cola 600) isn’t scheduled until May, it certainly seemed as if NASCAR could have been in town.
“We utilize all the processes that are already in place,” Callaway adds. “A NASCAR race already has people directing traffic. It already has parking spots in the infield. They already have medical teams that are used to working out there and so we, as much as possible, utilize those teams to go with the existing space and our experts.”
These reasons are exactly why Atrium forged this partnership with CMS, as well as Tepper Sports & Entertainment and Honeywell. While last weekend’s event was Atrium’s first mass vaccination event, the checkered flag is nowhere in sight.
Atrium aims to continue hosting similar events at CMS as well as the NFL’s Bank of America Stadium (owned by Tepper Sports). BOA is set to host its first vaccination clinic this weekend (Jan 29-31). Additionally, Atrium is planning to use the speedway again next month to distribute second dosages to patients from last week’s event.
To keep things streamlined while vaccines remain in short supply, CMS will use Pfizer vaccines while BOA supplies Moderna vaccines. If vaccines become more plentiful from both companies, Atrium says it hopes to establish a permanent setup at the two venues.
Atrium’s success with CMS has perpetuated increased calls for other racing venues and the motorsports community as a whole to be of much-needed service to the overall vaccination effort.
“Nationally, NASCAR and motorsports have potentially a huge role to play in these mass vaccination sites and mega events by partnering with local health systems and putting their expertise to use,” Callaway says. “We’ve approached this as public-private coalitions. Again, the motorsport community could be a major player in getting us through this pandemic to help with messaging, getting [the word] out to all their clients, and then using their really awesome expertise and physical facilities.”