NASCAR drivers will be returning to Darlington Raceway this weekend in South Carolina, but even with those loud engines, it'll be a much quieter racetrack. After a two month suspension due to COVID-19, the racing organization will hold it's first race without fans in the stands or high fives in Victory Lane.
“When we go back it’s going to have to look much much different than it did before, namely with no fans in the stands, but also how we operate the race. We know we have a real responsibility to protect the health and safety of our competitors, our industry and local communities we race in,” Jill Gregory, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at NASCAR, told Cheddar Friday.
Something else that is different this year is the title: The Real Heroes 400 will be the name of the game at Darlington. NASCAR will honor healthcare workers as part of The Real Heroes Project, a collaborative initiative with 14 sports leagues, including NASCAR, to honor medical professionals serving on the front lines.
“A number of the leagues got together and started to talk about how we could support the real heroes, the front line healthcare workers, that are really putting their lives on the line to keep everybody safe,” she said.
With the lack of sports for fans to watch, Gregory said NASCAR has a good chance of gaining new fans. The league has already seen increase in viewership for its esports virtual racing series.
To prepare for the return to the race track, Gregory said the organization has developed an extensive protocol to ensure safety among drivers and staff. One new protocol will take advantage of the amount of space they have within the facility.
“Each team, each component of the race itself will have its own pod area to work within. All of those there will be using protective equipment. There will be little to no contact among anybody there, even with drivers and their own race teams,” she said.
They have also increased security after a man was arrested this week for threatening to bomb Darlington Raceway. Gregory said racing officials are working with local law enforcement and their own security team to ensure everyone at the track is safe.
This isn’t the only race NASCAR plans to have this year. Gregory said the league is planning to host other races in cities where the local government and health officials say it is safe to phase in activities.