Covering NASCAR’s Historic Closure & Re-Opening for Kickin’ The Tires

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' The Tires

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer & Jerry Jordan, Editor

Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Kickin’ The Tires became NASCAR’s only web-based media outlet to cover both the closure and re-opening of the sport following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The closure began March 13 at Atlanta Motor Speedway when the race events in Georgia (along with the following race weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway) were officially postponed due to the beginning of the coronavirus’ impact on American sports. With a 71-day lockdown following, NASCAR and its partners unveiled a multi-phase schedule, prepped with safety precautions and adjusted media access.

With editor Jerry Jordan and I on-site for both Atlanta and Darlington’s NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday afternoon, we became among the only reporters to cover both historic moments.

And despite the empty grandstands and infield, there was no shortage of energy on the grounds of both speedways — that of a different kind, however.

Darlington was an all new kind of on-site reporting. Sunday’s historic return race was my 250th as an auto racing reporter, but it was a whole new experience for everybody who made it out to the property. I didn’t have any expectations going in, but I was thrilled to be able to cover the race even from outside the white and red walls of the South Carolina track.

On arrival, we found out about the media staging area, a football field-sized grass lot along outside the track’s tricky third turn. I had my temperature taken via a NASCAR employee (James Hallas) and got comfortable in my in-car workspace for the afternoon. Not ideal by any means, however, I could not be more thankful of NASCAR’s commitment to its media members.

Just a short time ago, there was no media access planned for the opening race. But by the time we arrived Sunday morning, there were four reporters in the press box and a staging area opened directly behind for those who wished to work on the grounds.

Jerry Jordan, who founded Kickin’ The Tires in 2000, joined me in the media staging area on Sunday and covered the eventual Thursday Xfinity Series race from the press box. It had been rescheduled from Tuesday due to rain. Following the initial closing at Atlanta in mid-March, Jordan had an insider’s perspective on the unprecedented move.

“Obviously, I was at Atlanta Motor Speedway when NASCAR called racing to a halt,” Jordan said. “What most don’t know is that I knew before others that we were done that weekend. I was in the parking lot, talking with a team member when they got an email from NASCAR. They just turned their phone toward me and I saw that we were done.

“But most everyone suspected we were done before they left to go to Atlanta. The email just come firmed it. I got on a plane the night before and less than 24 hours later, I was on the same plane returning to Houston. It was the same crew, same plane, just a different day. Three days earlier I had spent 37 hours traveling back from India, so I suspected the world was about to change.”

With a long-standing position in the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA), Jordan was a strong advocate for media’s access to cover the race under the current circumstances. It would come down to communication from all parties to get the access the media needed.

“As the world went on lockdown, it was obvious NASCAR was going to change the way things happened at the racetrack,” he said. “The reaction from society would push NASCAR in a direction that would lead to having events without fans, few, if any media members, and reliant almost entirely on television and the internet.”

With media initially left out of NASCAR’s mid-pandemic racing plan, the media would take action. The Associated Press protested and Jordan joined them.

“As the owner of Kickin’ the Tires, I joined what became called the Media Coalition led by the Associated Press,” he explained. “If NASCAR wasn’t going to let independent media attend the sport, we would not cover it. I vowed to be at Darlington even if I was forced to sit outside the track. I knew it would be a historic day. The haulers going through the tunnel for the first time in 71-days following the shutdown needed to be documented.”

With input from the NMPA, the AP and multiple media members, including KTT, NASCAR agreed to let four media members cover the races from the press box at each speedway when the action returned. Two of those would be decided by the NMPA. Joining them were a local media reporter and an Associated Press reporter.

“We didn’t get picked for the Cup Series return at Darlington, but I was there and so was Zach Catanzareti,” he said. “I thought it was important to document what happened as I had promised NASCAR we would do as a company. I used a drone to show fans that NASCAR was back and taking precautions to keep everyone safe, whether they needed to, or not.

“There were fans who also came to the track and camped across the street, rented houses or just tailgated for the day, so I knew I wanted to hear their stories. They knew they would not get in the track or see their favorite drivers, but it was important for them to show their support. And it was important for me to have Kickin’ the Tires tell their story.”

With a four-day speed week of racing beginning tomorrow (May 24) at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jordan will be in the press box for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, a NASCAR crown jewel since 1960. I will be on-site in the media staging area to continue my coverage of the historic time in the sport.

“Many of our media colleagues are restricted by their companies from covering the races or traveling,” Jordan said. “NASCAR has implemented medical screenings to ensure we are well even if we choose to stay outside the track. I will be in the press box for the Coca-Cola 600 and I will be live tweeting the race @JerryJordan_KTT w/ retweets and more at @KicknTheTires. If something happens on the track, you’ll see it on our social channels. Aside from TV, it is the only way to know what is happening at the track.

“Going forward, there will be many changes for NASCAR. Fans will view and attend races differently – at least for the foreseeable future. The media will likely lose some of the access it had acquired through the years, for a while, and press conferences may continue to be held via Zoom or video platforms.

“But we will cover the sport. We are an independent national media outlet and our job is to document racing history. Every aspect of NASCAR is a potential story and no one outlet can tell them all. We do the best we can.”

In closing, NASCAR deserves a lot of credit, not only for being inclusive to the media, but to take proactive action during this unpredictable time. Leading the charge in that regard.

Instead of waiting for the situation to subside, NASCAR found a way to compete within the situation itself — all while in a safe, organized and exciting manner. It was an honor to be a part of the opening weekend at Darlington and it only makes me more excited to get to Charlotte. Good days are still to come.

One Comment

  1. Donna Littrell

    May 24, 2020 at 10:58 am

    Congratulations on your informative look at NASCAR and how things are going. Good luck in the press box at Charlotte and keep us all informed about the team’s and drivers. Take care of yourselves and keep up good work. We appreciate all you guys putting yourselves out there for us fans.

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