CONCORD, N.C. — They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that seems even more appropriate given the times in which we’re living.
In the days before this writing, some of the biggest events in short-track racing were canceled because of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief among them were the 60th Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway and the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Neither venue was able to obtain clearance from state and local officials to run these classic races in their traditional form.
Obviously, this is not what anyone wanted. The Kings Royal and the Knoxville Nationals are two of the biggest short-track racing events in the United States and thousands of people look forward to attending those events annually. As well, both races have tremendous economic impact on the local communities.
But this year is like no other. The pandemic shut down racing across the world in March and it took several months for engines to fire up again.
NASCAR and the World of Outlaws have been among the leaders in getting racing back on track. Both sanctioning bodies have utilized social-distancing guidelines and limited crowds in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the virus continues to spread across the United States and people are still getting sick.
Races such as the Kings Royal and the Knoxville Nationals thrive on fan support.
Think about the fan response to Jason Johnson’s Knoxville Nationals victory in 2016; would that victory lane celebration been as memorable if there had been no fans in the stands to fuel Johnson’s emotional celebration?
The answer is no.
So rather than go forward with the Knoxville Nationals or the Kings Royal with a limited number or no fans allowed in the grandstands, the decision was made not to run either event this year.
Yes, it sucks, and it’s not fair. But what else can you expect track operators to do? Not only are they faced with the potential spread of a deadly virus, they also have to deal with rules and regulations that make it more difficult to make a profit on these mega events.
A few days removed from the cancellation of the Kings Royal, Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart voiced his support of the rules put in place by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“It is very disappointing, but I support the governor’s decision 100 percent,” Stewart said. “It’s a tough situation for everybody. I know fans are frustrated. People are frustrated not being able to get back to normal, but these governors’ offices have more data than we civilians have, and they understand the numbers and challenges.
“I was telling somebody earlier today; I wouldn’t want to be the governor of any state right now. People are losing their jobs and that is not what the governors want to happen, but we have to trust their judgment and doing what they are doing.”
Kevin Swindell, owner of Swindell SpeedLab and a four-time Chili Bowl winner, has spoken out numerous times on social media, asking for fans to wear face masks and practice social distancing in an effort to get the world back to normal.
“If you want to have a @cbnationals (Chili Bowl) in January, wear your damn mask,” Swindell said in one such Twitter post.
Like it or not, Swindell is right.
This isn’t a political topic — at least it shouldn’t be. This is about being socially responsible and respectful of those around you. Practice social distancing, wear a mask when you’re out in public and, with a little bit of luck, things will return to normal a little bit faster.
While that doesn’t fill the void created by the cancellation of major racing events, it creates a sense of longing and excitement for what’s to come next year.
I want to go to the race track as much as anyone. I miss being able to talk with friends in the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway or in the pits at Hickory Motor Speedway. Normally, I’d have seen a dozen races by now. This year, I’ve attended three.
So what am I doing about it?
I’m wearing a mask and I’m practicing social distancing. If that’s what I have to do to improve the chances of there being a Chili Bowl in January, so be it.
It breaks my heart we won’t have a Knoxville Nationals or Kings Royal victory lane celebration this season. Like so many others, I’ll miss these big events and the aura they generate.
These events will be back next year, and I am certain officials at Knoxville Raceway and Eldora Speedway will go above and beyond to make the 2021 editions of the Knoxville Nationals and Kings Royal bigger and better than ever before.
That, my friends, is something to look forward to. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.