In this interview with NASCAR President Steve Phelps he touched on a variety of subjects Friday afternoon, including the sport’s response to COVID-19, social justice and navigating the future in a new era of stock-car racing and entertainment.
“I thought (last season’s protocols) worked very well,” said Phelps, NASCAR’s President since 2018. “Nothing’s perfect. We did have some cases, a couple high-profile drivers as well. But all in all, I think if you look at our protocols relative to other sports, I think it worked really well. I think our competitors felt safe and I think our drivers, for the most part, they’re very pleased.
” … I think for us, just to kind of pivot away from that a second, for 2021 it’s going to be largely the same. We’ve done a little tweaking here and there, but for the most part it’s the same. If it didn’t work, we’d do something different. But I believe it worked, so we’re going to stay with the protocols that we had.”
With operations and preparations largely remaining the same as last year’s successful restart and completion of the season, Phelps indicated that focus would then turn to community outreach and the nationwide effort on vaccinations.
What’s one kind of place that’s big enough to hold lots of people in a spaced-out manner with built-in traffic patterns in convenient locations?
“One thing I would say that is tangential to this, all of our facilities have worked with local, state governments and health officials to open up their facilities for vaccines to be distributed at all of our NASCAR Cup Series tracks. Not just NASCAR-owned, but SMI, the independents. They’re all open and want to be distributing the vaccine,” he said. “There are some that are doing it right now: Texas, Charlotte, Bristol, Atlanta, Auto Club, Richmond. All of them are ready to do it. They are in short supply in some places so we can’t do it. We had a conversation with the White House earlier this week, and the White House is thrilled that we will be doing this.”
While helping to facilitate the rollout of vaccinations is certainly crucial from a public health and safety standpoint, there’s a positive byproduct for the sport, as well.
As more citizens are vaccinated, more fans will be able to return to the track and witness racing as it’s intended: live and loud, with their own eyes and ears.
“With respect to the vaccinations, to me it can’t come too soon,” Phelps said. “It’s not the reason why we’re using our facilities to vaccinate people, but when we get to a place where we have herd immunity, that is something we welcome the time when we can have our media partners in the garage, in the media center, and our race fans.
“NASCAR is about access. Right now we don’t have access with our race fans. We want to give them that access because it’s a unique point of difference in our sport relative to our stick-and-ball brothers.”