Fans and flags under scrutiny as NASCAR heads to Talladega
The Talladega Superspeedway is hot, not just for the drivers on a track known for their high-speed chaos.
It is another test run for security and security protocols because the fans return in limited numbers. NASCAR allows up to 5,000 fans and, officials hope, zero Confederate flags for the Sunday Cup series race and 44 RVs.
The fans undergo a health check before entering the route. You must wear masks and keep a social distance of half a meter. Other sports organizations and leagues are likely to watch NASCAR and Talladega handle the event, as fans of the corona virus have been banned from any sporting event in North America for more than three months and positive tests are increasing in scattered locations across the country.
NASCAR also hopes to have up to 30,000 fans for the All Star race next month at Bristol Motor Speedway in East Tennessee. This would be a dramatic increase over the first fans - about 1,000 of them - who were admitted to a Miami race earlier this month.
"They want to be at the forefront," said James DeMeo, who heads Unified Sports & Entertainment Security Consulting and is an additional instructor at Tulane and Mercer. "Nobody wants to be the organization known for not adequately protecting customers at such events."
Talladega and its normally crowded, sometimes noisy scene have a distinctly different feeling. Fans are not allowed to enter the infield and no hatchbacks are allowed outside the area before, during or after the race, except for customers who have purchased admission to the RV sites on Alabama Gang Superstretch. The 5,000 fans inside will be distributed in the stands and towers of the front track on a track that can hold about 80,000 spectators.
"The experience on race day will be different," said NASCAR Vice President Daryl Wolfe. '' It's just a different time. The fans have to adjust to this. We have to adapt to how we tackle these problems for the fans. ''
The corona virus is not the only new security issue in Talladega. NASCAR has blocked the display of the Conferederate flag for its events and facilities, but has not spelled out how the rule should be enforced.
"It's forbidden, and hopefully fans will stick to it, and if not, we'll take care of it," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer.
How NASCAR could deal with flags that pop up is also closely watched when the nation pays a racial record after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose heart stopped while he was stuck under the knee of a white police force passes through officer in Minneapolis. Long-standing symbols of the confederation are removed or checked. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only black full-time driver, helped the series ban the flag.
"If you send this race to millions of people and there are 44 RVs and all flags on the infield, what does NASCAR look like?" Said Richard Morman, who heads Concentric Risk Solutions and a former deputy head of the public sector Ohio State Security.
In this case, he said: "This is an institutional reputation problem (where) NASCAR said that they will prohibit this and that they will not have it or will not enforce it."
Timothy Ragland, Talladega's first African American mayor, said he had seen no plans for NASCAR to enforce the ban.
"But I know that I come from Talladega and have lived the races all my life. There are a lot of people who fly it," said Ragland. `` But I think I have to repeat the feeling of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. when I say it belongs in the history books. I think NASCAR has taken the right step to ensure that all fans feel involved in the NASCAR community. ''
A group of representatives from some of North America's top sports leagues - including NASCAR, Major League Soccer, NFL, Major League Baseball, and NBA - hold weekly conference calls to discuss ongoing events and games amid the pandemic, said Jeff Stonebreaker, vice president of security and protection at MLS.
Topics include everything from how you deal with cleaning and hygiene, to the purchase of protective equipment, and how to do different things.
"With so much variety, there is clearly no one size fits all," he said. '' But it's a very interesting time to get involved. ''
Major League Soccer resumes its season on July 8th with a Florida World Cup tournament without fans.
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