How safe is it to go out in public and attend events during the current pandemic? I had an opportunity to attend a live, in person, entertainment event recently and I thought I would share it with you here. A close friend and I had planned on attending a stock car racing event almost a year ago, and low and behold they were having the event, so we talked it over and decided to give it a whirl. What follows is our experience. I won’t get into any of the racers or which team is better, I won’t even get into some of the politics or current events around the sport. This is simply a sharing of an experience I had. If you have a strong opinion I encourage you to leave it in the comments for further discussion.
I have a friend, lets call him Gummy Bear (GB from here on in.) He and I go back about 15 years. We both drove commercial trucks for the same company for about a decade. He and I have both attended stock car racing events in a couple of different states and enjoy a good race, but more importantly enjoy a fun night of people watching at the track. We had planned on attending a race this fall at a big track near Daytona Beach, Florida. It is the last race of the regular season so it has “play-off” implications and is usually a well-attended event offering great finishes and a little drama. When we found out they would be holding the event and would be allowing an audience to attend, we talked it over and decided we would both like to get out of our respective houses and attend the event.
GB and I had both been working through the lock down and the slow start up and had both managed to keep healthy, so we figured with the proper amount of preparation and precaution, we could be safe and still have a great time. We met close to the track and armed with hand sanitizer, masks, and the right attitude and were off for an adventure. We had dinner prior to the event at a local eatery and then made our way across the street to the track. We have both attended this race before and had been to a couple other races at this track. They usually have a huge outdoor bazaar with food and merchandise, many corporate sponsors with display trailers, and there are often giveaways with this event. The COVID-19 has changed all of that. There was no midway, no merch shop on the plaza, no corporate sponsor displays, we were even hard pressed to find a food truck. We weren’t shocked by this at all. The great staff at the Daytona International Speedway made sure that there was plenty of early, clear communication about what the event was going to offer, what their guidelines for attending the event were, and the other details you would need to know to avoid surprises. When the track would open, what would be available, what to bring, what would not be allowed in the gates and what to leave home.
There would be none of the circus that usually accompanies NASCAR on their racing schedule. COVID had made that impossible. The gates opened a half hour before the race. Only clear bags were allowed in, a safety precaution NASCAR adopted years ago. No coolers were allowed at this race so you had to pack your food and beverage in a clear bag or back pack, or eat the food in the race arena. We headed up to the concourse and witnessed plenty of helpful staff directing people to maintain the 6 foot spacing rules and mandatory face masks. The signs and helpful people made sure you were aware of their protocols. GB and I had read about all of these rules earlier in the email communication we got from the track, so generally there were no surprises. There were some souvenir vendors on the concourse within the track, but nothing like the midway of years past, and most of the “shops” with doors and fixtures were closed. There were food and beverage personnel selling burgers and dogs, chicken and nachos, sodas and adult beverages, but all the drinks were capped, no open containers and anywhere anyone came into contact with food, there were gloves. Everyone was wearing masks and there was no complaining about it. It was kind of refreshing. Heck, even the bathrooms were socially distanced.
We grabbed a couple of sodas and some food, just to make sure the corporate giants didn’t go out of business, and then headed to our seats. Fans were spaced out and groups had a row or a couple of seats between each party spreading people out. The real treat was being able to take off our masks once we were seated in the stands. The race teams were dealing with some of the same limitations. A couple of minutes before the race, the drivers were summoned from their motor coach lot and came out to their cars. They played the anthem, we had a flyby, they announced the drivers and we got ready to “Go Racing.” After they had donned safety equipment and their gloves and helmets, only then could the drivers wave to their pit crew as the cars rolled out onto the track and began parade laps. This was a sharp contrast to years past where there were hugs and kisses for the wives and children, and pats on the back for the crew and car chiefs.
GB and I listen into the race chatter on the radios from the crews and the Motor Racing Network’s broadcast team. It is really the best way to hear what is going on with your favorite teams and drivers. You also get to hear what goes on behind the scenes of the broadcast and get to hear candidly what the announcers are talking about during the commercial breaks. It was most interesting on this night to hear the reaction of the MRN broadcast team as they commented that it looked very sparsely attended compared to years past, but they all agreed that there were more people in attendance in the stands than they would have imagined coming out for this first live audience event. They ran the race. Different story lines developed as the evening progressed. There was a massive fall thunderstorm that threatened, but never really made it to the track. As the laps ticked down to the checkers, the racing got more intense as play-off spots were decided and season grudges were paid up. All in all, it was a great night of racing and a very enjoyable event.
As we made our way out to the car after the event, GB and I were both happy we had come out to witness it. We didn’t see anyone in the crowd that had over consumed their adult beverages, there was no protesting or rioting, we even managed to avoid campaign year politics. There was decent weather, and a bunch of folks who were just happy to be out of the house and experiencing a little normalcy, even if just for a night. I am not sure what the future holds. I don’t know when we will get a handle on “the COVID.” I’m not here to espouse a point of view or to convince anyone that they are right or wrong. I don’t even wanna guess at what the new normal is, however…. If you are feeling a little cabin fever, If you can find an event happening in your area, if you are brave, if you feel safe, if you are adventurous, go out there and live a little life. The people in the live event industry are desperately trying to figure out how to present the sports, art, entertainment and events you know and love. They want to get it right. They want to keep you safe. They want to offer up those moments that we all cherish. They also need our help. So if you can go out there and help them out by attending and supporting the things you love, safely, you know with hand sanitizer and a mask then please do it.
Stay safe and we’ll see you next time from the Kennedy Space Center in scenic Cocoa Beach, Florida. Mars or Bust!