NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway could draw over 60,000 fans as coronavirus ravages state

NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway could draw over 60,000 fans as coronavirus ravages state
Scott Wright
The Oklahoman

Published 1:56 PM EDT Jul 18, 2020

FORT WORTH, Texas — Eddie Gossage doesn’t expect many spectators to be visible on TV during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The TMS president knows plenty of fans will be in the stands for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. But not many will be down low, where TV cameras will catch them.

“It’s going to be very, very hot,” Gossage said with a laugh. “Most of the fans will move up under the shade in the grandstands.”

Sunday’s Cup race will be the first major sporting event in Texas with spectators since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world in March. It will be the second time this week the Cup Series has competed in front of fans, after Bristol Motor Speedway had about 20,000 fans for Wednesday’s All-Star Race.

State guidelines allow for 50% capacity, which means 67,500 fans could attend the O’Reilly 500. Gossage doesn’t expect to reach that number, but he and his staff have been working tirelessly since the race was rescheduled from late March to accommodate anyone who wants to attend.

“We didn’t expect to set any records for attendance,” Gossage said. “We just wanted to make it available and give fans an option.”

The difficulties have been unceasing since NASCAR announced the rescheduled date of the Cup race.

“It’s been extremely challenging,” Gossage said. “I haven’t been to the office in over a week. Our staff is working from home. It’s a lot harder to do this from home to get prepared for an event, but that’s the way a lot of us are working these days.”

TMS switched to fully digital ticketing and cash-free concessions. Social distancing has been implemented everywhere from the parking lots to the restrooms, and 2,000 pieces of signage have been added around the complex to remind fans of social distancing protocols.

Masks are required for every person over 10 whenever it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance from another person not in the same household.

Aside from the unique changes designed to protect fans amid the coronavirus pandemic (Texas reported 174 deaths Friday for a third consecutive daily high), Gossage expects a good race. This will be the first summer Cup race ever at TMS, and the heat — while not great for fans in the stands — will be pleasing to the drivers.

“The race car drivers like a hot, greasy, slick racetrack,” Gossage said. “It’s counterintuitive to us folks who don’t do that for a living, but they tell me it’ll be a better race. It’ll be more suited to these cars. It’ll come down to who handles that the best, but I think you’ll see a different kind of race.

“They tell me it’ll be a much closer race, and that’s a good thing.”

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