RESTART: NASCAR forms committees, talks with crews, plans meeting with state officials

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By Jerry Jordan, Editor

NASCAR officials are scheduled to meet with state representatives in North Carolina next week in an effort to re-open race shops and work towards restarting the racing season, sources have confirmed to Kickin’ the Tires.

It looks like the first cars could be on the track as early as the regularly scheduled races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the source said. After canceling next month’s events at Martinsville Speedway, on Friday, the goal is to get cars back on the track for Memorial Day Weekend.

Additionally, the sanctioning body is reaching out to teams through committees it has formed with drivers and other leaders in the sport – hosting telephone and video – conferences to discuss plans for moving the sport forward, what at-track activity will look like when the season resumes.

“Our intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined,” stated a press release distributed Friday. “The health and safety of our competitors, employees, fans, and the communities in which we run continues to be our top priority. We will continue to consult with health experts and local, state and federal officials as we assess future scheduling options.”

With four races – Daytona, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana – already in the books, that leaves 32 races to complete plus the All-Star event. In addition to Atlanta and Martinsville, races have been postponed at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Raceway.

Over the past few weeks, NASCAR committees have been formed and held several phone conferences and drivers have also been recruited to reach out to teams and crew members to discuss plans and ideas about restarting the season. One person, who was on a call Thursday, said there are multiple options on the table with the primary focus being on getting back to the track.

“We have to get back to racing,” said a team source. “Everyone’s focus is 100-percent on getting back to the track. I know the smaller teams are starting to really get worried. I am at one of the bigger teams, it’s not a Hendrick Motorsports, but we are concerned. We don’t know how much longer we can go like this.”

Since the season was paused NASCAR has let go a number of employees but, as a privately-owned company since taking over International Speedway Corp., it has not disclosed a specific number. Additionally, Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns numerous racetracks on the circuit – Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma and Texas – and other properties, laid off our furloughed 180-plus employees in the past week.

A search of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification databases for North Carolina and Florida did not show that either company had filed paperwork required by the W.A.R.N. Act, which in certain circumstances requires layoffs of more than 50 employees to be reported to the state where a corporation pays the bulk of their federal taxes. There are exceptions to the law, which includes, “If an employer believes their situation is the result an economic crisis, it may apply the unforeseen business circumstance exception; however, there could be a burden on the employer to prove why it could not plan 90 days in advance.”

Questions have also been raised about how teams, drivers, media members, officials and fans would be able to “social distance” at the track during a race weekend and at the present time, there may not be any fans at the track – something that has many drivers unhappy. As teams descended on Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR put a plan into action that closed off the garage and pit road. Prior to canceling the event altogether, fans were told there would be no one allowed to attend the race and those camping were asked to leave the property, as soon as, possible. Media members were to be staged in either the press box or the infield media center and driver interviews would be conducted via closed-circuit television. That is likely the scenario of how media coverage will happen for the foreseeable future, said one source with the sanctioning body. No one except drivers and crew members would be allowed on pit road.

“If we have to race on a Sunday, Wednesday and then Sunday, again, that is what NASCAR is proposing,” said a driver, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of NASCAR’s discussions. “What really bothers everyone that I have spoken with is that we want fans at the track and that may not be possible, right now.”

In previous interviews, NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said, “Would we consider racing without fans at some point to get back racing more quickly without fans? That’s in the consideration set. I don’t know. It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number. Again, we’ll work with our health officials. We’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense for us to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.”

That “consideration set” is looking more and more likely.

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said it is counterintuitive to run races without fans; however, he concedes it may have to happen. It is not something he wants.

“Obviously while everybody would much prefer to run NASCAR races in front of full stands, there is a chance to run the race without fans,” Gossage said via text. “It would provide live sports programming for television and that would be great for American society. It would also be great for our sport because it would likely expose our sport to new fans looking for a diversion during this time as they shelter at home. Our sport is uniquely positioned compared to sports requiring body-to-body contact. Our athletes are inside a vehicle and don’t have personal contact with competitors. Pit crews can maintain spatial distancing and already wear helmets and gloves. They could wear masks, if necessary. And auto racing events are held outdoors in open-air venues. There are other considerations, but it is possible it could happen.”

Another concern has been how to get all the races on the schedule completed and still have a championship at Phoenix International Raceway. There were, as many as, seven different proposed scheduled floated by NASCAR depending on when the sport can resume racing. Some people have also suggested shortening races and others have proposed multiple doubleheader weekends like what NASCAR was already planning to do at Pocono Raceway.

“We are working with FOX and with NBC to understand what windows might be available,” the last time he held a teleconference with the media on March 17. “That will come as we develop this schedule. It is complex, for sure. But both partners have shown great willingness to try to work with us.”

In addition to wanting to get back to the track and race, there is also a business aspect to the scenario and with a majority of NASCAR’s finances coming from its television contracts, the broadcasts are crucial. There is concern that a failure to meet the 36-race schedule would affect payments to the sanctioning body, teams and drivers, which are all tied to the 10-year, $8.2 billion television contracts shared by FOX and NBC. In simplest terms, NASCAR takes the $820 million it receives each year from those contracts and divides it across the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series – with the Cup Series getting the lion’s share – to pay teams, drivers and operational costs. Entitlement sponsors, team sponsors and endorsements make up the rest of the revenue.

“Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course, we are,” Phelps said, back on March 17. Teams are now a month into mandated shutdowns without revenue coming in to cover overhead. “We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can. Lots of things on the table. No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss. Financially we need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like.”

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: NASCAR planning scenarios for return to racing - Jayski's NASCAR Silly Season Site

  2. Jacqueline Yunker

    April 19, 2020 at 8:20 am

    Whatever it takes to get back to racing and still keep people safe, I am for it!

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