Dover’s NASCAR weekend won’t include fans

DOVER — Mike Tatoian’s biggest wish for the NASCAR race weekend at Dover International Speedway on Aug. 21-23 has been squashed by state officials.

Mr. Tatoian was hoping that fans would be able to return to the track known as the “Monster Mile.” However, in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19, state officials announced Monday that they will not approve the track’s request to host a limited number of fans.

“We submitted a comprehensive plan to state officials outlining our planned procedures and protocols for keeping our fans safe throughout our August race weekend,” Mr. Tatoian said. “Unfortunately, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the decision was made to not allow fans.

“We understand it, and while we are disappointed, we also realize that we need to err on the side of caution and yield to the opinions of public health experts to help reduce the further spread of COVID-19.”

Even without fans in the grandstands, Dover will host an ambitious race weekend that will feature six races over the course of three days.

“It may be the first time in the history of NASCAR that the industry will run six races in three days,” said Mr. Tatoian. “So that alone is a logistical challenge, but given the circumstances that we’re going to have to operate under makes it even more complex to be able to execute a weekend like that.

“The good news is we’ve had tremendous cooperation from NASCAR, from public health officials. … Our staff is great from the standpoint of being able to execute this, but it will be a lot of logistics. Right now, it’s a triple doubleheader, so there will be a lot of people coming in and out, a lot of (car) haulers going in and out.”

The Aug. 21-23 race event will include the “Drydene Doubleheader Weekend,” featuring NASCAR Xfinity Series and Cup Series doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, with all four races televised on NBCSN. It will be a doubleheader because May’s races at Dover were postponed due to COVID-19.

On Aug. 22, the Drydene 200 Xfinity Series race will take the green flag at 12:30 p.m., followed by the Drydene 311 Cup Series race at 4. On Aug. 23, the Drydene 200 Xfinity race begins at 1 p.m., followed by the Drydene 311 Cup Series race at 4.

On Aug. 21, the General Tire 125 ARCA Menards Series East race will start at 2 p.m., followed by the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at 5 (televised on FS1).

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Tatoian had hoped to see race fans return to Dover’s high-banked, 1-mile concrete oval for the first time since October.

He was confident that Dover was primed and ready to host an unprecedented race weekend — during which he was hoping to see fans enter the grandstands and enjoy the view and experience of race day, as well as the sounds and smells. That, he said, would have made for the perfect scenario.

“I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing fans,” he said recently. “That’s what I really hope happens. As always, there will certainly be a lot of excitement on the track over those three days. Like I said, ‘Miles the Monster (track mascot)’ … this is going to be like an all-you-can-eat buffet all weekend with as many cars that are going to be on the track, so it will be great.

“Our races are going to be exciting enough themselves, but what I’m really looking forward to is to open those gates and see the fans coming into the facility. That’s what I’m hoping happens.”

Unfortunately, in the year colored by COVID-19 with an endless number of postponements and cancellations, that will not be the case.

Ticket holders for Dover’s August race weekend have several options, including a full refund or transferring funds (including an extra 20% bonus) to Dover’s 2021 NASCAR weekend.

Fans can visit to register their preference or call (800) 441-RACE to reach a ticket office representative to review their accounts and options. Fans are asked for their patience, as higher-than-normal call volume is expected in the coming days and weeks.

NASCAR set mark

NASCAR returned to racing in mid-May after a two-month 70-day shutdown that began in March due to the coronavirus.

It was the first major sport in the country to return to action during the pandemic when it held a Cup Series race — without fans — at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on May 17.

Since then, NASCAR has crammed in Wednesday night races, doubleheaders and anything else it can possibly do to ensure it completes the 36-race season schedule it had planned before COVID-19 struck. Since returning, there have been many races contested without fans and a couple with a limited number of spectators in the audience.

NASCAR set the benchmark for how major sports in the United States could return to the field — and racetracks — even during the coronavirus pandemic. Major League Baseball started its abbreviated 60-game schedule Thursday.

Mr. Tatoian said it was NASCAR that has set the protocols with how to deal with COVID-19 from a sports industry perspective.

“I think we’re all extraordinarily proud with how NASCAR’s been able to navigate through (the COVID-19 pandemic),” Mr. Tatoian said. “The benefit I think we’re going to get on our race weekend is now they will have gone through this 10 or 11 or 12 times. It started off with an extraordinarily high benchmark of event protocols and procedures, and it continues to get better and better.

“We’ve been able to learn a lot, and (NASCAR) has been able to learn a lot to create a lot of efficiencies. So, by the time we get to our race weekend so much of this will have already been executed really well, so we get the benefit of everybody that went before us.”

NASCAR has held 15 Cup Series races, not including the All-Star race at Bristol this month, since returning to the track at Darlington in mid-May.

That was the day that Kevin Harvick recorded his 50th career Cup Series victory and realized what a different world it had become.

“The impact that Sunday had on the country, as I got text messages from (U.S. House Minority Leader) Kevin McCarthy talking about how great it was for America, (Phillies manager) Joe Girardi talking about how great it was for sports, how it gave them hope for baseball,” Mr. Harvick said. “The PGA called (in May), talking about how the sports world was watching NASCAR to see what they needed to do to get their players back safely.

“The impact was way bigger than 50 wins. The impact of that race meant so much in so many different directions. I totally, on my part, underestimated the impact that event had. Being the winner of that really, really drove it home for me, … after the race with the fans not being in the stands, the lack of enthusiasm that you didn’t have to share all your enthusiasm with everybody.

“There were just so many moments that were just so much bigger than anything that had anything to do with my stats. I was just really proud of our sport at that particular point for putting on a safe event and doing the things we did.”