The NASCAR industry will move one step closer to normalcy next month when the infield reopens to select guests and members of the media on May 7-9 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
The garage area has been closed to only essential personnel since the sanctioning body returned to competition last May from the coronavirus shutdown. That has meant only drivers, crew members, officials and safety crews have been permitted into the infield bubble.
The details have not been officially unveiled by NASCAR, but guests will have access to the garage and pit road but will not yet be allowed to meet with drivers or cross over onto pit road. Drivers must remain in their motorhomes until the moments prior to opening ceremonies of each event.
These guests will primarily include team partners, who will be permitted into victory lane for socially distanced photographs or on top of the pit box, a common practice for sponsor guests prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
NASCAR will require that any guest is fully vaccinated, and each team will be responsible for confirming that status. The sanctioning body may ask for a vaccination card at the health screening checkpoint but will not store any guest’s health data.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “We need to get our partners back with us. So I’m sure hoping. I know NASCAR has talked about it, I know they’re doing everything they can, but that would be a huge deal for us.”
“We’ve got so many guys that love racing, key people that support our race team,” Gibbs said. “I’m sure other race teams are the same way. We need, as quick as we can, to get those people inside, back where they can get and enjoy racing again.
“I think most of our key sponsors – the CEOs, upper management of our sponsors – most of them, as I continue to talk to them, have been vaccinated. So hopefully that’s going to make a difference, too. I have. I know a lot of people on our team have. So I’m hoping that’s our breakthrough.”
– Each team, each manufacturer and the track will get a handful of guests. Those guests must be fully vaccinated. Prior to COVID-19, it wasn’t rare for a team to be able to entertain a sponsor executive and some family members of that executive, but now it most likely will be limited to the sponsor executive only.
– The guests will have access to the garage and pit road, but there will be no hauler tours, no meetings with drivers (drivers stay in the driver/owner motorhome lot) and no access to the “hot” side of pit road, meaning no photos of the guests by the cars or with the drivers prior to the race, as was the custom before the pandemic. If their car wins, the guests will be allowed on the pit box and will be allowed to go into victory lane for a socially distanced photo with the team.
– Each team will be responsible for confirming that its guest has been fully vaccinated. NASCAR might ask for a vaccination card at screening but will not store any health data.
– NASCAR is not requiring drivers and crew members to be vaccinated but is highly encouraging them to do so. NASCAR asks about vaccination on its screening form each week, and it estimates that the NASCAR industry mostly mirrors the national averages for vaccination but might be a little lower because on average crew members and drivers are relatively young and only recently became eligible.
– NASCAR currently allows a family member or significant other of a driver or owner to stay in the driver/owner lot. It is working on a plan to allow those individuals to also go to pit road for the race.
– Masks will be required for anyone in these areas.