NASCAR to continue but without fans

Why NASCAR Can’t Just Have Races With No Fans

NASCAR to continue but without fans

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 13: A general view of the garage area at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March … [+] 13, 2020 in Hampton, Georgia. NASCAR is suspending races due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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As with other sports, many more NASCAR fans watch Cup races on television than attend them in person — the ratio was about 100 to 1 for the most recent race from Phoenix.

After NASCAR weighed the option last week of staging two races without fans before postponing the races altogether because of concerns about coronavirus, the question arose:

So why can’t NASCAR just have races in front of empty grandstands?

Perfectly understandable. The announcement late Monday that NASCAR events will be postponed through May 3 has resulted in a gigantic live-sports black hole. Just from Monday through March 22, Fox has dropped more than 130 hours of live and delayed event/studio programming across Fox, Fox Sports One and Fox Sports Two.

So I took the big question Monday to five industry sources, all of whom wanted to remain anonymous. Steve Phelps, the NASCAR president, said in a teleconference Tuesday that staging races without fans is a possibility, but only after NASCAR returns.

About 2,000 to 2,500 people are needed just to stage a NASCAR weekend, even with no one in the stands. That is far more than the 50-person limit per gathering recommended Sunday by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. A racetrack is an enormous piece of property. There are 180 acres just in the infield at Daytona International Speedway.

“I don’t think folks realize how many people it takes bare bones to put on a race, even with empty grandstands,” one industry official said.

With NASCAR still intending to have a full 36-race Cup schedule, here is how an event breaks down:


One industry source told me that a single race team, not an organization, will bring about 10 crew members to the track, 11 including the driver. On race day, a team brings in an additional five pit-crew members.

There is also a driver for the team hauler — sometimes two depending on the length of the journey to and from the track. There are two or three team executives, and two or three marketing representatives for a bigger team. Each driver also has a media representative.

One or two others from the team might be needed for travel and at-track logistics. That runs the number to at least 20 per race car. A person from another organization said that number is the same for one of his teams. With 38 teams, that is at least 760 people just from the race teams.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 13: A general view of the garage area at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March … [+] 13, 2020 in Hampton, Georgia. NASCAR is suspending races due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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And that is just for a Cup race. Teams for two support series — Xfinity and trucks — are smaller than Cup teams, and some employees overlap, but it is not stretching it to figure that at least 1,000 to 1,500 employees come to a NASCAR track just to put the cars on the track and race them.


If there are no fans at a race, then there is no need for, say, ticket-sellers and ushers, workers at the concession and merchandise stands, medical people or people to clean up. There would be less need for security and safety workers outside the racetrack itself.

But about the same number of NASCAR executives and officials would still be needed to oversee the races. There would still have to be officials in the pits, timers and scorers, flag men (or women) and pace-car drivers.

There would still need to be medical, safety and security workers, tow-truck and ambulance drivers. These employees could total as many as 500 people for a weekend at larger race tracks, where more ground has to be covered.


Fox has about 120 employees — announcers, directors and producers and camera operators — on site for a typical NASCAR race. Another 30 employees work on the race from the network’s Charlotte studio.

Prior to the postponement of the Atlanta race, NASCAR announced a plan that would eliminate participants’ face-to-face contact with news-media representatives, making them available for interviews by teleconference. There would still be some reporters at the race, just not as many.

Racing will return someday, other sporting events to watch on television and in person, but it is unly to return without fans. So break out the VCR and the old Winston Cup tapes, if you still have them.


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IndyCar needs fans or NASCAR to run at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020, says track president

NASCAR to continue but without fans

John and Tucker Hartung of Lamar Advertising removed an Indianapolis 500 billboard along Lafayette Road, April 7, 2020. The race is delayed to August. Indianapolis Star

With more than six weeks to go, Eddie Gossage is hoping for business as usual.

But the president of Texas Motor Speedway is now also holding out hope for ‘Plan B’ in order to hold the Genesys 600 IndyCar race June 6 – a plan that got a major show of support Monday from the state’s governor.

Gossage has been adamant, despite   concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, that his race would continue to be preserved as-is – fans included. He sees his position as an economic and pragmatic one.

The two series are far different in their economic realities. Race promoters receive nearly two-thirds of the TV rights package for holding a NASCAR race. That revenue stream disappears when IndyCar comes to town.

“So without any revenue to support having to pay the purse sanctioning fee of an IndyCar race (without fans), there’s no way to make that work,” Gossage told IndyStar. “In a perfect world, everything goes back to normal (and there are fans).

And if it doesn’t, our hope would be that NASCAR would look and see, ‘Well, Texas has that week of June 5 and 6 already set aside for the (NASCAR trucks series) and IndyCar; let’s plug in Cup and maybe Xfinity as well.

We could easily run (all four) in one weekend.

“If you do it without any fans, you already have in place the key staff: emergency, medical, fire, infield hospital doctors and nurses, TV networks, radio networks and on and on. You have that prepared, and then there’s a certain economy of all that that would allow us to run without fans for an IndyCar race.”

The details are far more complicated than the wish may sound on paper — starting with a NASCAR race already scheduled for Michigan that weekend — but it received its first major blessings in the past 24 hours.

Sunday night, an average of more than six million Americans sat around their TVs for two hours watching what felt the closest thing to appointment live-sports TV in more than a month. The first two episodes of ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, ‘The Last Dance’, took a stranglehold on sports fans Sunday and still had droves talking and reacting Monday.

That’s what Gossage hopes Texas Motor Speedway can bring to the sports world – and what he believes motor sports are uniquely designed to be able to deliver in the midst of a pandemic. Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are primed to be center stage, he explained.

“It would be great for the morale of the American public and to tell the rest of the world that some of the stories you’ve heard about COVID-19 the U.S., that’s not necessarily the case here in Texas,” Gossage said. “We’re getting back into the swing of things, and this would be one example of business returning to as-usual, to normal.”

In terms of other states, Texas ranks 16th in the country in deaths due to COVID-19, according to the latest information, but the country’s second-largest state by population sits 39th in deaths per one million residents.

Gossage pointed out that, as some cities and counties around the country brace to run hospital beds to deal with patients suffering from COVID-19 or other sicknesses, the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area’s 12,998 hospital beds are only just over 60% full, according to data provided by the state.

And as states such as Georgia set to open up major portions of their economic sectors as early as this week, Gossage believes Texas and others will soon be ready to follow suit. Monday,  Texas politicians voiced public signs of support – at least in terms of auto racing.

On , Texas Gov.

Greg Abbott announced a clear path for NASCAR, specifically, to return to TMS to make up for the stock car race originally planned for late March “very soon,” stating that NASCAR is “working to return to Texas Motor Speedway very soon. I hope to announce the exciting details in the near future. To prevent (the) spread of COVID-19, it will be without fans. But they will put on a great show for fans.”

Other state representatives, as well as Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, echoed the same sentiments on .

Just spoke to @NASCAR leaders. They’re working to return to Texas at Texas Motor Speedway very soon.I hope to announce the exciting details in the near future.

To prevent spread of #COVID19 it will be without fans.

But they will put on a great show for TV.

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 20, 2020

Our mayor is on board! See Fort Worth @MayorBetsyPrice’s tweet below. She loves @NASCAR and @IndyCar coming to @VisitFortWorth! @TXMotorSpeedway

— Eddie Gossage ™️ (@eddiegossage) April 21, 2020

As NASCAR continues its attempt to hold all 36 races from its originally planned schedule, there remain no open weekends until late July (including plans for June 7 currently at Michigan International Speedway). Outside of a mid-week NASCAR race, it would appear a race at TMS “very soon” would require a series schedule shuffle.

The addition of NASCAR to the slate would, according to Abbott’s plans which Gossage confirmed, eliminate the possibility of fans attending any of the four races.

“Trust me, this ‘no fans’ concept is counter-intuitive to me as a promoter,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing I never thought in a million years we’d be talking about.”

But against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, it paints a much simpler picture, if not as quite as big an economic boost.

“It’s easy to do for TV. You don’t have to worry about fans or traffic. When you’re talking about having more than one event, you’d have ingress and egress, food and beverage, finding people to staff you for ticket sellers and ticket stubbers, concession stands.”

Holding the IndyCar race June 6, however, would require the first IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader or having fans in attendance. Otherwise, IndyCar won't return to north Texas until 2021.

“You’d be guaranteeing huge losses for the track,” Gossage said of running IndyCar solo without fans. “We’re also part of the ecosystem that is auto racing, and we want to support the sport in general, but we also want to be supported. We’re part of that ecosystem that has to eat too.”

The latest IndyCar news:

Gossage mentioned that he spoke with IndyCar series owner Roger Penske on Sunday night, and though the pair didn’t discuss any sort of bailout plan for TMS to host IndyCar alone and fan-free – “It doesn’t mean we won’t some day,” Gossage said – the two began hashing out what IndyCar’s side of a whirlwind weekend would look in a potential historic partnership with NASCAR ahead of the already scheduled doubleheader July 4 weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

'We're uniquely positioned'

The plan, Gossage said, would involve loads of temperature checks, private travel and one long, long day.

To start, all IndyCar drivers, crew members and team officials who wouldn’t travel with their haulers would – along with series officials – undergo a temperature check before jumping on a thoroughly sanitized charter plane for Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport, a large non-commercial airport just five miles down the highway.

Freshly scrubbed buses would await all passengers, who would be taken straight to TMS, where they, along with anyone gaining entrance to the track, would have their temperatures taken to monitor any side-effects hinting at the early signs of COVID-19. Though such checks wouldn’t account for those who could be asymptomatic, Gossage assured that “it’s as safe as you could make it” without the creation of a reliable mass-produced test with results within minutes.

“And there’s also a current shortage of tests, so taking any would be very sensitive to use them for just a race versus the general public,” he said.

From there, drivers would receive a couple more medical check-ins throughout the day while they would practice, qualify and race in a matter of hours.

Then, they would board buses and get on a plane that will have been sanitized since their last trip.

“Everyone would have to practice social distancing, but the neat thing about our sport is you don’t have body-on-body contact,” he said. “I don’t know how you’d deal with these issues if you’re football, basketball, hockey or even baseball.

“But we’re uniquely positioned with golf, tennis and horse racing to do this.”

Aug 27, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe (5) of Canada and Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud (22) of France and Chip Ganassi Racing Team driver Tony Kanaan (10) of Brazil during the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Jerome Miron, Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

What's next

Life for Gossage is now a waiting game. Monday, North Carolina speaker of their House of Representatives Roy Cooper published a letter sent on his behalf to the state’s Gov.

Roy Moore pleading to allow NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to run as scheduled the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend without fans in attendance.

But for the time being, Moore has not lifted restrictions that would allow such a race to be held, nor has he permitted the bulk of NASCAR race teams that are housed in the state to resume in-shop business.

Letter from NC House Speaker to NC Governor joining call for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway proceeding:

— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) April 20, 2020

Gossage believes that Charlotte will host the first motor sports event of the year since NASCAR’s race at Phoenix on March 8, but he’s ready to go, no matter what that weekend may look come the first couple days of June.

The stress, he said, isn’t in what’s to come, but what’s not coming presently.

“It’s the stress of inactivity,” he said. “Not being in business, and we know that’s not unique to us because we know every business has been affected in some way, and some much bigger than others. But the sport of auto racing, we’ve got to get back to running events, regardless of the series, because we’ve got to start the dominoes.

“For now, though, there’s no need to rush, just take our time and see. That’s what we’ll do – absent NASCAR – but we’ll hope that’s what happens. Because every day, our chances grow a little slimmer, but we’ve got our fingers crossed. Today, the Governor said on the call, ‘We’re good now. In two weeks, we’re going to be great, and by the first of June, we’re going to be ready.’”

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at Follow him on : @By_NathanBrown.


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