TALLADEGA, Ala. (WIAT) — Engines will roar at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, and so will fans for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Sunday’s GEICO 500 will be the first race fans can attend since NASCAR returned in mid-May. Talladega Superspeedway president Brian Crichton said it’s an honor to be in this position.
“This race was supposed to happen at the end of April, and so to have a date and have this coming up this weekend is exciting for all of us,” Crichton said. “This is a step in the direction of where we need to be in the future, and we’re excited to be a part of this step.”
Close to 5,000 fans will enter the gates Sunday, but they’ll first have to be screened for COVID-19. Crichton said when fans drive up, they’ll be asked several questions about their symptoms the last 14 days and have their temperatures taken. If they’re cleared, they can park and access the grandstands through the gates. Fans in the 44 RVs allowed will go through the same screenings.
It’s the next step in NASCAR’s return to normalcy. The sport returned to racing at Darlington Raceway May 17 after more than two months without races, but celebrations were subdued with no fans in the stands. The race this weekend is set to be more exciting, even with a small crowd. Now, track officials face the challenge of making sure safety procedures are smooth and effective, which could set the sport up to allow more fans at future races.
“This is a test for us to put those policies and procedures in place to make sure they’re working properly so we can continue to grow as NASCAR goes through the states that allow fans to come back,” Crichton said.
NASCAR will also have to enforce another new policy this weekend: the ban of the Confederate flag. Last week, they announced that the flag would not be allowed at its events or on its properties. This decision followed the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis which led to protests around the country. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s sole black driver, called for the sport to ban the flag, and leaders made the decision to do so. Crichton said Talladega Superspeedway has a plan to enforce the rule this weekend.
“We’ll enforce it just like we do anything else that’s banned from our facility area, whether it’s glass or fireworks or selfie sticks, umbrellas, weapons or anything else,” he said. “We’ll enforce it the same way we do those other items.”
Racing begins Saturday at 1 p.m. with the General Tire 200 ARCA race. The Unhinged 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race will follow at 4:30 p.m. The GEICO 500, the only race fans will be able to attend this weekend, starts at 2 p.m. Sunday.
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