NASCAR’s first race back after a two-month hiatus is going to have a very different look for the teams and drivers, who will be working under new protocols aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. There will be smaller teams than usual at Darlington Raceway, COVID-19 screening, and social distancing measures around the facility.
But how will it look to fans watching it?
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 16: A general view of the grandstands at Darlington Raceway on May 16, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. NASCAR is preparing to resume the season with a race tomorrow after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
There won’t be any at the track, but the race will be broadcast live on Fox at 3:30 p.m. ET, and the TV team has plenty of hurdles to overcome, as well.
Michael Davies, FOX Sports SVP Field & Technical Operations, told Fox News Autos that Fox Sports will have about half as many people as usual at the track and fewer cameras, but they’ve maintained key angles and will be using a high-speed drone capable of reaching 90 mph to fill in the gaps.
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 16: The sun sets at Darlington Raceway on May 16, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. NASCAR is preparing to resume the season with a race tomorrow after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Davies said the empty grandstands will actually allow the pilot to reach areas to provide shots that would otherwise be impossible, since you can’t fly a drone over thousands of people.
JEFF GORDON ON THE CHALLENGES OF COVERING NASCAR FROM A DISTANCE AND HIS SECRETS ON HOW TO WIN AT DARLINGTON:
The broadcast booth team of Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon won’t be in attendance, and they will be calling the race from the Fox Sports studios in Charlotte — which they’ve used to present the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitataion simulation racing series that was held during the season suspension. Gordon said it’s been good practice, but that he does miss the perspective that sitting on top of the stands provides.
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 16: Social distancing signage at the Darlington Raceway as it prepares to re-open tomorrow for the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400, the first professional motorsport to resume the season after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) on May 16, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
There will be one on-camera personality at the track, however. Pit reporter Regan Smith will be doing the job of the four reporters that are usually on hand for a race, using a boom mic to interview crews and drivers while staying 6-feet away.
Davies said it will be a learning experience, and that they’ll be doing a lot of improvisation during the race, but that he’s confident the Fox Sports team can pull it off.
NASCAR’S CHIEF RACING DEVELOPMENT OFFICER ON THE SPORT’S RETURN TO THE TRACK:
One thing they won’t have to worry about as much as other sports is the noise. Unlike the German Bundesliga soccer league that has resumed playing in empty stadiums, the NASCAR Cup cars provide their own, very loud soundtrack during the race. But while the national anthem will be covered by a remote rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by South Carolina native Darius Rucker, whoever wins the race will have to settle to listening to the cheers from his crew and competitors as he heads alone to victory lane.