INDIANAPOLIS — Tread lightly racing promoters and officials. Now more than ever, be smart.
The COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding mayhem is a crummy deal, of course. It is without question the most intense and lingering bad dream of our lifetime. Nobody wanted it, nobody was ready for it and we can’t even find three people who fully agree on any single aspect of it.
But it’s here. And the only thing we can do at this point is navigate ourselves back to normalcy.
People are ready to go racing. They are suffering economically and if the lockdown persists into the summer it will take years for many companies — and people — to recover. For short-track racing in particular, the stakes are critical.
Racing finds itself in a predicament. In order to do business amid widespread lockdowns, tracks and racing series must get the blessing of the government. That’s a broad term, “government.” In this case it means federal, state, local, county and city officials. Health departments, the state governor and all sorts of agencies are involved.
Six months ago, we didn’t even know those offices existed. I guess that makes it even because six months ago most of those officials didn’t know anything about sprint cars or late models.
But here we are, forced to ask their permission to assemble groups of people to do what we do.
Asking permission? That goes against our grain. We’ve always been a little different, racing people. We’re independent and self-motivated, and we chafe at the idea of rules and regulations. Most of all, we don’t like authority. Yet here we are; our very existence within the control of government officials.
For most of us, our instinctive reaction is to rebel. To raise our voice, to force our will, to look at the situation as nothing more than another obstacle to overcome.
Under normal circumstances that’s not a bad instinct. Operating a track or a racing series is a demanding, uncertain job, filled with adversity and challenge. Few racing officials are delicate flowers; they are more like tough, persistent weeds, able to withstand the heat and wind and storms.
But our current situation isn’t just another challenge. It’s an unprecedented situation that carries implications that could shape our future for decades to come.
Everybody likes to gripe about the government. But don’t forget: You can’t beat city hall. It’s an old saying, but it’s never been more true.
Now is not the time to be the bull in the china shop. Sure, it feels rewarding to make noise and break lots of china, but the fact is that a few hours after the damage is assessed the bull is often turned into hamburger.
When it comes to dealing with public officials, one won’t win by publicly defying authority, calling people names and trying to embarrass them. No matter how much righteous might you can muster, no matter how much you believe public sentiment is on your side, you won’t win. Not in the long run. Parking the emotions and proceeding with a clear head through proper channels and following the rules is the way to go.
We’re seeing that play out right now as this was written in mid-May. Racing leaders across the country are working with local and state officials, figuring out how to get back to business. They’ve achieved only mixed success. But they’re building bridges and they are working within the rules.
Sooner or later they will prevail, there is no doubt.
On the flip side, we’ve seen a few who have insisted on trying to knock the door down. Most — if not all — have not been successful. What they might not realize is that not only did they lose this round, but they’re going to have a very difficult time in the future because government officials have long memories. Sure, that’s not how it should be, but do you have any doubt that it’s true?
This isn’t simply about being right; it’s about being smart. Long-term smart.
You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you don’t want government officials mad at you when they go to sleep at night. We hold these truths to be self-evident.
Luckily, we are making progress. Sure, it’s hard to be patient, but we’re inching toward recovery. We are going to survive this thing. There isn’t any doubt we will persevere.
Running a race track or series has been called a thankless job and that’s accurate. Rarely do racing leaders get the recognition and respect they deserve. If nothing else, this crisis has revealed that we’ve got some smart, good people leading our sport and they are working hard to move us back to prosperity, back to doing business.
I’m proud of those people. I hope you are, too.