What was always considered a cliché is now reality as NASCAR is now considered essential business in the state of North Carolina.
Gov. Roy Cooper extended the North Carolina stay-at-home order through May 8 but confirmed that race team employees could return to work if they maintain physical distancing guidelines.
That means professional stock car racing could return by the end of next month despite the ongoing coronavirus shutdown. Cooper also confirmed on Thursday that state and federal health officials were examining a proposal for NASCAR to race in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans in attendance.
The Coca-Cola 600 is currently scheduled for Sunday, May 24.
The confirmation that race shop employees could return to work was made during a Thursday afternoon news briefing.
“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they can begin working in their garages as an essential business as defined under our executive order,” Cooper said. “(Teams) are still in contact with local health departments. Local governments may have some different health restrictions.”
Gov. Cooper was not totally ready to commit to a specific race date suggested that information could come soon.
“I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners, they have come forward with a plan to try to protect their employees, a proposal that there would be no fans in the stands,” Cooper said. “Right now our public health officials are examining their proposals and they’re also talking to local governments there, their (shops) are in several counties around Charlotte, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg about how they would run their (shops) and to get the cars ready, they need a couple of weeks ahead of time.
“We’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon after we’ve had more conversations with public health officials and with NASCAR officials.”
Meanwhile, the governors of both Florida and Texas have already encouraged NASCAR to contest early return events in their states. NASCAR has considered restarting its season in the middle of May at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
The Darlington option is plausible because it has some of the fewest restrictions in the country and is also just a two-hour drive from the shops near Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike tracks in Florida and Texas, teams would not need hotels and could contest events during the course of a single day, minimizing exposure risk for COVID-19.
“Our desire is to run the Coca-Cola 600 with fans as originally scheduled on May 24, but we realize these are unprecedented circumstances and the parameters surrounding public gatherings remain a primary consideration,” Smith said. “We look forward to working with Gov. Cooper in an effort that will allow race fans to once again enjoy action on the track as we all work through these challenging times.
“For 60 years, this race has been a Memorial Day Weekend tradition at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and we want to do everything possible to support NASCAR, the dozens of race teams in North Carolina and the fans to get back on track. We will work with the governor, state and local government and health officials to make that happen.”
Speedway Motorsports laid off 180 employees and furloughed 100 others last week as part of a workforce reduction due to the coronavirus shutdown. Teams and tracks receive a majority of their revenue from television money, regardless of how many fans show up to the track.
Thus, NASCAR’s economy and future prospects are directly tied to contesting races on television, resulting in a degree of urgency from the industry.
It remains unclear if NASCAR would contest races without pit crews and how many team employees would be allowed into an empty venue race.
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