By Jerry Jordan, Editor
JUSTIN, Tx – In years past when NASCAR arrived at Texas Motor Speedway the weather is much cooler but this weekend race fans will watch what it’s like for Cup Series drivers to battle their cars in the scorching Texas heat when the green flag falls, on Sunday, for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
With temperatures expected to be in the mid to upper 90s, it’s a challenge that track president, Eddie Gossage, said he expects excellent racing conditions – “a hot, slick and greasy track. Drivers love that.”
Gossage and his team have spent weeks getting ready for NASCAR and its fanbase to descend on the speedway. Originally, the race was supposed to unfold on March 29 but everything was rescheduled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, there are markers and stickers in place to help ensure social distancing in lines, every other concession window, toilet, sink and parking space will be closed off to ensure people don’t get too close to one another and there will be plenty of hand sanitizer for all, Gossage said.
“We have spent a monumental amount of time and effort relocating everyone’s reserved seats so they can be with their group and those families are apart from others,” Gossage said. “Everyone will have to wear a facemask and everything will be done electronically. There are no paper tickets, everything is an e-ticket on your phone and we will not be accepting cash at the concession stands. They will only take credit and debit cards because that will eliminate someone handling cash and then someone else having to make change and put people at potential risk. And everyone gets a free bottle of hand sanitizer.
“Concession stands will also be selling cups of ice, that’s something we haven’t done before.”
One other thing that will be different than in the past, fans are free to bring their own drinks and ice to the track but coolers are not allowed, so they need to be in clear plastic bags. Gossage didn’t say if there was a limit to the size of the plastic bag, however.
“Yeah, there will be no coolers this race but we are not outlawing coolers forever,” Gossage stressed. “Just pack your items, ice drinks, whatever, in clear plastic bags. We don’t want our guards reaching into a cooler to check them and possibly transmitting germs to you or them. Just hold it (plastic bag) up and keep going.”
Although the track is taking the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic seriously and working to ensure the safety of the fans, Gossage said his main concern is the heat. So, to combat that, the track will have cooling stations set up for fans needing to get out of the heat. The stations will have iced-down towels that fans can use to cool off. Gossage also believes some fans, who would take the necessary precautions to keep from contracting the virus, may be hesitant to attend because of the heat. He explained that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on what the attendance will be like.
“The heat is going to be a big issue,” he said. “That is the number one reason why I think some of them aren’t coming. I understand that. I don’t blame them and I don’t have a clue on what the attendance.”
Gossage said many of their season ticketholders have not responded to the track about whether, or not, they will be at the race. However, even if they show up on race day, Gossage said he and his staff will find places where they can social distance, watch the race and have a good time.
“We are preparing for everything and everybody,” Gossage said. “Those that want to come great. Those that want a refund, no problem. And for those that want a credit plus some, we are fixing them up. We are not trying to set an attendance record, obviously. Our place is so big that it will look virtually empty Sunday no matter how many show up.”
As if Gossage didn’t have enough on his plate with trying to promote a race during a pandemic, rumors were rampant in the garage and spread by some media outlets that there wouldn’t even be a race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. One website, quoting a single anonymous source, stated NASCAR would call a meeting on Tuesday and announce the event was cancelled. The report was completely inaccurate and something Gossage said was never discussed. Kickin’ the Tires debunked the story – contacting NASCAR and Gossage to confirm that the race was not in jeopardy.
“The rumors are what they are and they were never based in fact,” Gossage said. “I have talked to several drivers on the past 10 days and they don’t have any concerns about racing in Texas. The situation in Texas (with COIVD-19) is nothing like the situation was in New York back in the spring. There are so many people in Texas that the number of cases showing positive is a tiny fraction of the number of people in the state. And I am not a COVID-denier. This is a serious matter and I have family members with it right now but the chance of contracting it is very slight if you will do what the directions call for – wear masks, social distance and use hand sanitizer.
Gossage added that he and his staff didn’t spend a lot of time promoting the race because “this isn’t the time be banging drums as hard as you normally would” but he is ready to see the green flag to fall. For those fans who do show up, they will be treated to a rendition of God Bless America by Rachel Bradshaw, the daughter of legendary quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, who will serve as the grand marshal and give the drivers the command to start their engines.