Who would have thought, even as recently as three weeks ago, we would have all been sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon watching a virtual race at a time when a NASCAR Cup Series race was scheduled?
Well, that’s the world we now live in, at least for the next several weeks at best. But as this world-wide outbreak of COVID-19 carries on, there will no doubt be even more re-definitions of those things we thought we once knew taking place. Things we had previously taken for granted such as live sports on television are now, for the time being, gone. And in their place many people are under “shelter in place” rules doing things such as playing board games, reading, or going outside with the kids.
Going forward there will almost certainly be some changes that work their way into our lives even after we feel free to return to normal activities. Perhaps things we once gave little consideration to will become parts of our daily routines. And maybe there will be things we once thought of as essential to our way of life that may be shelved, or at least demoted on our lists of priorities.
And not only will those new ways of living life be true of most every human on the planet but also of businesses, churches, schools, and the sanctioning bodies of major sports. Video conferencing, online services, and online class assignments may very well become the norm rather than the exception. Sports will also have to adjust to this changing dynamic as their offerings may have to be geared more for those from afar rather than those inside an arena.
In the case of NASCAR, at a time when the sport is already in the midst of transition with a new car coming into being in the near future as well as a shuffling of the series schedules, new ways of doing things will almost certainly present themselves as a result of the changes being brought on by the coronavirus. Ideas that were only in the infancy, or never considered at all before now, are almost certainly being kicked around the corporate offices in Daytona Beach.
Would anyone have guessed during this year’s SpeedWeeks leading up to the running of the Daytona 500 that NASCAR would have ever considered running races with no fans in the grandstands? Well, that was the plan for the events scheduled at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway in March until the plug was eventually pulled on the running of those contests all together.
With the postponements already announced, NASCAR has stated its intention to run all 36 of its scheduled races in 2020. Obviously, if the shutdowns from this pandemic stretch as far as July or August as some have predicted, some races will almost certainly have to be chalked up as lost. That, again, will change the whole dynamic going forward.
For example, some tracks that were thought to be locks for keeping two dates on the schedule may only have one race in this highly unusual year. That, in turn, may cause those who plan for upcoming NASCAR seasons to realize that said track does not actually need two dates after all.
NASCAR has hinted that it plans to condense the season schedule for 2021 and has already announced one such plan by cutting the number of days spent at Daytona International Speedway in February. New ideas for trimming the racing calendar might very well present themselves in the coming weeks.
Pocono Raceway already has a unique double-header weekend slated for later this season. Could other tracks find themselves hosting Cup Series twin bills later this season or even next year?
If 36 races are to be completed and the Championship 4 finale is to take place on the scheduled date of November 8th at Phoenix International Raceway there will have to be some midweek races held between now and then. Rather than a Saturday-Sunday double header there could be Thursday-Sunday events held at the same track.
Such things could become the norm in later years.
And one thing we have just learned is that there is potential for virtual racing to become part of the NASCAR paradigm. Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 150 for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway was the talk of the sports world as the old of traditional NASCAR racing met the new of virtual racing in an entertaining way.
In some way, it’s almost certain that iRacing will be incorporated into “regular” NASCAR from now on. Perhaps Thursday nights prior to a weekend event will feature top virtual racers taking on the actual racers in some sort of televised format.
How about the NASCAR All-Star race being contested as a virtual race with the best from that world taking on the actual stars of the sport rather than its current format? A tournament could be held to establish which of the 10-12 iRacing competitors would be permitted to go up against the previous season’s Cup Series winners or something of that nature.
Whatever comes out of this extraordinary year, it will almost certainly call for new ideas and bring about new ways of doing things. The NASCAR that emerges from the COVID-19 disrupted season of 2020 will likely not look anything like what we have become accustomed to. We are all in the process of redefining everything we know, and that includes those who run major sports such as NASCAR.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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