NASCAR's move of the All-Star Race to Bristol was long overdue but the decision to allow 30K fans could backfire
NASCAR has done better for the second time in the past five days than never before when it was announced on Monday that the July 15 All Star race will be at Bristol Motor Speedway instead of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Charlotte has been a regular host to the All-Star race since its inception in 1985. While the track has produced some iconic moments and great races over the years during the All Star races, it is undeniable that the race has been stale for the past decade. Charlotte's repair and NASCAR's recent car and tire changes have not worked well during the night race.
Heck, the most memorable all-star moment of the past decade may have come in 2016 when a warning came out before Matt Kenseth made his mandatory green flag pit stop and hell broke loose.
So yes, the all-star race had to be somewhere else. And Bristol is a great option. The short distance spawned a fun race on May 31st and has the potential to produce a lot of entertainment without points on the line.
But what NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports are doing with this move in Bristol is very risky. And all of this risk is related to the decision to admit up to 30,000 fans in the middle of a pandemic for an event where no fans in the stands are needed to be the entertaining TV product it has become.
NASCAR had driven in the bleachers without fans
None of the first seven races in the Cup series after NASCAR started racing again on May 17th - including the Bristol race on May 31st - had fans in the stands. Sunday's race in Homestead was organized in the bleachers for only 1,000 military personnel and select VIP guests in suites. Only 5,000 fans will compete in Talladega on June 21, and there will be no fans in Pocono, Indianapolis, and Kentucky in the three races before the All-Star race.
That means the All Star race will be the most-visited sporting event in the U.S. since the pandemic started. You can bet that it will not get lost on both NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports. At the very least, the procedures that NASCAR and Bristol will introduce can be a window on what participation in soccer games could look like in the fall.
If the Bristol experiment works and everyone follows the social distancing protocols, there is likely to be increased optimism in the surrounding areas that fans might be able to play football in some way.
Experiments don't always work. And switching from 5,000 fans to 30,000 fans at an event in the middle of a pandemic is a big leap, even if Bristol's capacity was once over 160,000. The track says it will socialize distance social groups across its huge bleachers and set up additional security protocols and procedures, although no masks are required. Instead, the Bristol website states that the use of masks is "highly recommended".
While social distance - especially outdoors - can slow the spread of the virus, research has shown that wearing a mask while maintaining social distance is a very effective preventive measure. This research is why NASCAR has been causing team members and officials to wear masks on the track since the race resumed.
Fans who may or may not practice social distancing in their daily lives do not have to meet this requirement, although when purchasing tickets on the Bristol website, they are asked to “waive the facility, its parent companies and all related and related persons and dismiss them and companies, and all individuals and companies involved in the Bristol Motor Speedway event for which you are licensed, from all [coronavirus] claims that result directly or indirectly from your visit. "
Since the participants of the All-Star race come from several states to the race and almost all of them are not sure whether they are infected with the virus on race day, a potential outbreak of the race can be far-reaching.
First real test of the Confederate flag ban
Not only will NASCAR manage its first event in the middle of a pandemic involving tens of thousands of participants, it will also enforce the ban on the Confederate flag on a larger scale for the first time. Although fans cannot camp in Bristol's infield, the campsites are open outside the route. And NASCAR will have the job of monitoring all the flags that will fly high.
The sanctions agency has not given precise details of how the route ban could and would be enforced - including for the 5,000 people going to Talladega this weekend - and seemed to have the advantage of finding out these details for larger events than they did the ban introduced ban last week.
Instead, NASCAR and Bristol have only a month to determine how they monitor their areas around the route for Confederate flags and manage the inevitable enforcement when people rebel and try to raise the flag.
This enforcement - said by NASCAR that it was a major hurdle when it stopped banning the flag in 2015 and only told fans not to raise it - has to be given the widespread praise NASCAR has received over the past week , be robust and efficient. It cannot be toothless or arbitrary. When pictures of stars and bars circulating on the Internet on a property in Bristol circulate on the Internet, the sanctions authorities' words about the flag and the fight against systemic racism and racial injustice are considered by many to be emptier than a 12-pack beer at the end of a tailgate before the race.
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Nick Bromberg is an author for Yahoo Sports.
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