Green Flag – NASCAR Is Back Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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Darlington, South Carolina was not my first, nor tenth—not even my one hundredth—best bet to give the entire country a sophisticated and well-organized “the future is now – in full color” living preview of our American professional sports universe. But this old, charming Caroline city and its storied, monolithic racing equivalent to professional baseball’s Wrigley Field will soon, with safety paramount, host the beginning of the end of the 2020 American coronavirus sports drought. 

This is our first national green flag moment in sports—metaphorically and literally.

NASCAR is not always fun. If anything, it’s brutal and punishing. No broadcast will replace the exhilaration of a live race. But NASCAR is arguably the most technically and logistically complicated professional sport in the country. Therefore, this complex and ambitious race schedule, initially slated as seven races in eleven days, with more events scheduled daily, should serve as something of a sterling litmus test for every sports league. All major sports commissioners and team owners atavistically wishing, wistfully scheming, to salvage some fragments and parts or all of its constantly reshaping and shifting 2020 regular season should watch the races next week. 

You should, too, because this looks like a lot of fun.

And a lot more fun than when Trevor Bauer continues to pretend we’ve forgotten his temper tantrums—hurling a game ball over the wall in center after getting yanked by Terry Francona days before getting traded being just the last in a long string—as he whines on Twitter about medicinal precautions not being worth the trouble if it means he and other players do not receive one hundred percent of their salaries—despite the background context of this myopic, tone-deaf tweet: the worst national job loss levels since the Great Depression with no end in sight—there are hundreds, and maybe more, good ol’ boys down south who are ready to deliver for their fans and sponsors. 

All NASCAR teams and drivers in Darlington are rarin’ to go.

Everyone is making sacrifices and taking precautions to provide average, socially distanced Americans shards of hope and modest entertainment. No one wants to make a mistake. There is no replacing live sports. Should we exercise vexatious specificity while protecting athletes and teams? Yes. Should we never get more excited than dipping our toes into cautious optimism? Again, yes. Is this the first tangible reconfiguration by which all other sports should ideally juxtapose their efforts against, should they establish and pursue plans to begin competition again? Yes, and yes.

Ironic, too, since NASCAR was the only major American sport in which most, if not all or nearly every athlete and their entire support staff, wore masks, gloves and other robust protective equipment at all times during practice, training and throughout actual competitions before the national coronavirus shutdown.

If all goes according to plan—and it may not…this is possible, too—then every professional league should take notes and mimic the safety precautions and etiquette we’ll see this Sunday.

Pacific northwest motor sports fandom pales in comparison to the motoring bombast exhibited in the deep and coastal south. Yet the spirit of NASCAR today, and throughout the rest of this month, is one in which most of us can find ourselves represented.

This, again, is our green flag moment.

As a nation, and within our sports universe, we can embolden inspiration. We can hypothetically, more than simply endure, maybe ever emphatically endorse, the wild and twisted, enduring folklore of all super-juiced modified consumer vehicles, originally retrofitted for running rum and moonshine northward while evading prohibition bolstered law enforcement on country and back, side, and in all and every example of labyrinthine boundlessness found commonly on dirt roads, and other forms of dangerous unpredictable terrain. And how this push-on-at-all-costs, though more tame than during prohibition, remains strong and an integral part of our competitive American soul, even if updates to the NASCAR culture are far more complex than just cosmetic retrofits. 

But this notion applies in equal parts to NASCAR and our future, disinfected American life. The lasting essence, major idea, of NASCAR is all about one driver and a team of men and women performing at an unbelievably high level when all the physical and technical odds are stacked against them and their team.

Generic sedans should not go that fast. (And they don’t).

NASCAR exists as testament to overcoming insurmountable obstacles by deploying equal parts ambition, creativity and grit—all while harnessing the insane efficiency of high speed on the run. This improvised NASCAR season restart is the most NASCAR thing NASCAR has done as a whole in the last two decades. Let’s not mince words: this is badass. And again, our national green flag moment.

Here is a list of all eleven major NASCAR events on the horizon. Nearly all races will run at night.

May 17 – NASCAR Cup Series Race at Darlington-1 – 3:30 PM – 7:30 PM EDT

May 19 –  NASCAR Xfinity Series Race at Darlington-1 – 8:00 PM – 12:00 AM (May 20) EDT

May 20 –  NASCAR Xfinity Series Race at Darlington-1 – 7:30 PM – 11:30 PM EDT

May 24 – Coca-Cola 600 – 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM EDT

May 25 –  NASCAR Xfinity Series Race at Charlotte-1 – 7:30 PM – 11:30 PM EDT

May 26 – NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race at Charlotte-1 – 8:00 PM – 12:00 AM (May 27) EDT

May 26 – Coca Cola iRacing Series: Round 8 – 9:00 PM – 11:00 PM EDT

May 27 – NASCAR Cup Series Race at Charlotte-2 – 8:00 PM – 12:00 AM (May 28) EDT

May 30 – Mid-Ohio 170 – 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT

May 30 – Kansas 250 – 8:30 PM – 12:30 AM (May 31) EDT

Also, these are some of the new major safety rules NASCAR will deploy for all forthcoming events.

1. No fans allowed inside the race facility.

2. All race day team rosters will allow no more than 16 people, driver included.

3. Masks are required one hundred percent of the time. Failure to use a mask will result in both an instantaneous ejection from the race facility and up to $50,000 in fines.

4. Teams will run a battery of medicinal and diagnostic tests to verify that no symptoms are prevalent before, during and after each race.

5. Random temperature screenings will occur for all crew members in each garage.

6. Mandatory digital and tactile contact tracing logs, as well as a record of all symptoms exhibited by crew members must be rigorously maintained, and updated before, during and after all team events. If any illness symptoms are present, the team member showing symptoms must immediately self isolate.

All things considered, the herculean effort by the sport’s support staff is worth nothing but high praise. When I first heard about seven races in eleven days, I said, “Are you kidding me? This is unbelievable. I am actually excited about NASCAR.” 

So, if you’re itching for live sports, watch now or forever hold your criticism about the overabundance of left turns on race day. To make it more fun, try picking a driver, or just vicariously join one of the many enduring race teams. If you do that, give it a chance, then this is going to be fun; because it is ride or die time – the green flag will be waving, Sunday, on high.

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