LEMASTERS: Itching To Get Back To Normal

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Ron Lemasters Jr. Mug
Ron Lemasters Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. — Is anybody else longing for some normalcy about now?

I sure am, and for the reason that I imagine most of you are too: There isn’t anything normal about this racing season.

Racing in most forms has been back to … almost normal for a while now, but it is still wonky as heck and just not feeling right.

Schedules are compacted and most events are run without fans. There’s not a lot of buzz, compared to a normal season. Some of the racing has been epic (see Kyle Larson’s blitz through the sprint car world as one example) and some has been about the same as usual.

Any racing these days is a good thing, in my opinion. Where we are, hard by Charlotte Motor Speedway, the comforting sounds of activity at CMS is just about back to normal.

But it isn’t right.

The usual drivers are winning, by and large, and that’s comforting in a way. Denny Hamlin, Scott Dixon or pick a Penske driver in IndyCar and Lewis Hamilton has made a statement so far in F-1. I just heard that the U.S. Grand Prix will not be run this year at the lovely Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Bummer.

As we are all recovering — and hopefully all of you are — from the cessation of our normally scheduled pastimes, we need a little good news.

One question that recently popped up: Why is no one talking about the fact that John Force Racing isn’t competing in the NHRA divisions it usually dominates? It’s not surprising: John is 71 and in the prime age group affected by the virus, but Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Robert Hight are not.

The bad thing about the pandemic panic is that fans are the hardest hit. Many of those who regularly attend races have been forced into a hiatus, believed to be temporary, and that cannot help but raise questions about future generations of race fans.

We live in times where people are calling the efficacy of racing a thing of the past, so what hope do we have when the future generation of fans is forbidden to attend and keep the circle going?

I am sure we as an industry will overcome as it will take far more than a virus to keep us down. Yet, I worry. Things are changing and while that is a good thing in some instances, it seems a bit worse than it has been. Those of you old enough to remember when we had an energy crisis (early 1970s) know how scary that was to proponents of motorized competition. What can you do when the cars have all the gas they need but no people to watch them go?

Most important of all are the local tracks. They are the lifeblood of our sport. You don’t start your career racing at Daytona, Indy or Charlotte; it has to be built one step at a time. There’s a ladder system and the first rung includes tracks such as Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Anderson (Ind.) Speedway and Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway. These tracks are usually a step ahead of the break-even line financially, and any break in the chain means they’re closer to the minus side of that than is good for them.

Fans are allowed at some tracks but not at others. Until this all stabilizes, it’s kind of a holding pattern to see what the damage will be.

Resilience is a key character trait for both racers and promoters, so I’ll bet the over every time.

Until we get to the other side of this COVID-19 kerfuffle, I won’t rest easy. But I will say, knowing who all is involved in making it work, that we’ll be back to normal far sooner than the stick-and-ball sports will be.

You can take that to the bank.