Today NASCAR becomes the second professional sports league to return—without fans and with a slew of social distance restrictions—transforming the top American car racing league into a guinea pig for professional sports to exist without a cure for coronavirus.
On Sunday, May 17, NASCAR will hold its first race since March 8 at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina—without a single fan in the stands, though fans can tune in at 3:30pm ET on FOX—and fewer than 900 credentialed personnel (a normal race has up to 3,700).
This resumption also includes restrictions to keep drivers and crews safe: only 16 people per 40 Cup Series team (reducing team size by about 66%), team members will be required to pass a temperature check upon entry, and while in the arena, are required to wear gloves, masks and maintain social distance or face a fine between $10,000 and $50,0000, says the Washington Post.
All NASCAR events—of which there are normally 38 across America—are to be held within driving distance of teams’ North Carolina headquarters so that teams will neither need to board planes nor stay in hotels.
As for why NASCAR is returning while most other major sports remain canceled indefinitely: “We’ve got some advantages in that most of our competitors are already wearing protective clothing and gear—helmets, head socks, fire suits, gloves and the like,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps told Washington Post.
Before coronavirus, NASCAR suffered from audience loss; in the past couple years, the sport had about 50% fewer live and TV viewers than it did in 2005.
The UFC became the first professional sport to resume its season on May 9.
“You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back,” said President Trump in a recorded opening to the UFC’s May 9 match, the first since its March 21 suspension.
Unlike other professional sports that rely on live fan attendance for a huge share of revenue, national broadcast deals drive NASCAR’s business, according to the Washington Post, so it may be able to continue without significant change to its business model or cure for coronavirus.
The next professional sport scheduled to resume is golf, with the PGA kicking off its season on June 11. Golf is also a no-contact sport played outdoors makes it a more natural fit for social distancing. Other pro sport leagues like the MLB, NFL and NBA are suspended indefinitely, though the MLB has put together a safety proposal for professional baseball to resume. Prior to the NBA’s suspension on March 11, coronavirus wracked the league, with multiple players on Utah Jazz, Nets, Pistons and Celtics testing positive for the disease. This shows the challenges the virus poses to sports like basketball, football and baseball—all which rely on physical contact, travel-heavy seasons and fan attendance.
Where the Major Sports Stand Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic (New York Times
U.F.C.’s Coronavirus Plan Is Careful. Its Enforcement Has Been Spotty. (New York Times)
NASCAR fires up its engines Sunday, hoping to lead sports’ return from quarantine (Washington Post)
NASCAR is back after a 10-week coronavirus hiatus (Axios)
Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus