From the sports editor: Dover fans will miss seeing races in person

Fans will not be permitted at next weekend’s NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway due to the coronavirus pandemic. Delaware State News file photo

DOVER — For the last five decades, if there was a NASCAR race at Dover, there was probably a Yocum in the stands.

Eric Yocum doesn’t know of too many NASCAR races his family missed since Dover International Speedway opened in 1969.

That’s why the idea of the Monster Mile hosting a race without a Yocum — or any fans — there is hard for him to imagine.

“This year, and only if the wind blows right, I will only get to hear the racecars from my house,” said Yocum. “So, it’ll be sad and strange, yes.”

There will be plenty of other local race fans who share Yocum’s emotions, of course.

Dover will hold six races next weekend — including a pair of Cup races — without any fans permitted in the grandstands.

Eric Yocum poses with Lake Speed’s car at Dover in 1982. Submitted photo

It will be an odd sight for people at the track but also an unusual experience for those who are used to being there.

Yocum’s parents, Wally and Rose, started the family tradition of taking their four boys to the track.

“It was what my brothers and I did growing up,” said Eric, who is 44. “As much as I think I could miss it, the sound and speed of the racecars would always get my attention.

“The first sight of the racetrack as you look through the fence that morning is always exciting and exhilarating. It gives you an energy. I personally have not attended the race every year, but it always has been special and entertaining.”

Eric Yocum and his late father, Wally, pose with a NASCAR trophy at Dover in 2005. Submitted photo

Yocum said he understands the situation. Fans are not being permitted to the Dover races to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Whether fans are allowed at NASCAR races is being decided by local officials at each track. Even the venues that have had fans permitted aren’t allowed to have more than 50-percent capacity.

“As much as I would want to be at the track and see it for real, I understand it is for the health and safety for everyone,” he said. “I think we all want to resume life how it was before this pandemic. Any steps to get us there is smart and worth taking.”

In May, when Dover’s first race weekend was slated to be held, the Yocum family got a pretty big thrill when driver Anthony Alfredo won a virtual race on the Monster Mile. The paint scheme on the hood of Alfredo’s car honored Wally, a Korean War veteran.

Eric Yocum would have liked to cheer on Alfredo in person next weekend. Instead, he’ll have to wait for another opportunity.

Yocum will miss the competition and the late-race strategies that often determine the winner.

Mostly, though, he’ll miss the opportunity to make more memories with his family at the track.

“It will seem strange, yes,” said Yocum. “I love taking my kids to watch — or at least play at the activity tents each year. It has been a twice-a-year event to spend time together with my family and to make memories.

“But,” he added, “I am also thankful for still having professional sports on TV at this time despite the world’s pandemic.”

Weather or not

With high school fall sports now tentatively slated to be played from late February to April, the weather may big play a big role in the success of the move.

Some people, of course, are picturing late-winter snowstorms and cold weather. On the other hand, rainy weather — and the occasional threat of a hurricane/tropical storm — has been a problem in the fall.

According to one set of stats for Wilmington, the average snowfall for March and April between 2010-19 was a combined 4.1 inches. The average is 18.3 inches for January and February in that same span.

“We’ve overcome a lot more concerns in interscholastic athletics in years past than having fall sports in February going through April,” said Bradley Layfield, the DIAA board chairman.

“It’s going to be colder. You could have snow, you may not have snow. There are a lot of question marks. (But) I really think we can overcome a lot of those uncertainties.

“There are a heck of a lot more uncertainties with this virus than dealing with whether we’re going to get a lot of snow in February right now.”

Looking ahead

At the moment, the biggest question facing football is simply returning to the field.

You can’t help but wonder, though, how playing high school or college football in the spring would affect the physical sport for the following fall.

The players would face a much smaller recovery window if football has a chance to get back on track as a fall sport.

“That’s a concern,” said Wesley College coach Chip Knapp. “Football is tough on the body and a lot of guys need a full off-season to recover — from shoulder injuries and different things.

“So this playing in the spring and then playing immediately in the fall is kind of unchartered waters in how people can handle it. It’s never been done before in that time frame. But our guys generally think the more football the better.”

Odds and ends

• The University of Delaware has seven former football players in NFL camps: Nasir Adderley (Chargers), Nick Boyle (Ravens), Bilal Nichols (Bears), Joe Flacco (Jets), Zach Kerr (Panthers), Troy Reeder (Rams) and Charles Scarff (Ravens). The Blue Hens had an FCS-leading nine players on NFL rosters last fall.

• Former Middletown High and Delaware standout Chad Kuhl started for the Pirates in their loss to the Reds on Friday. The righthander had his longest outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, throwing 78 pitches in five innings.

For the season, Kuhl has 18 strikeouts with four walks in 14 inning and a 3.21 ERA.

“It’s just another milestone that I can look back and be proud of and move forward from there,” Kuhl was quoted on Pittsburgh’s website. “Just building up, little by little. Hopefully (I’ll) be able to maintain a good pitch count, be able to go six next time and move on.”

• North Dakota State, which has dominated FCS football for the last decade, announced on Friday that it won’t be playing in the fall. The Bison, who faced Delaware the past two seasons, had been trying to put together an independent schedule.

North Dakota State has won eight of the last nine FCS national titles.