CONCORD, N.C. — Now that the racing season has been sliced, diced and pureed by the domestic health emergency known as the COVID-19 pandemic, what will be left when the engines finally start cranking and the action resumes?
To be sure, there has not been a similar series of events that have affected motorsports to this degree since World War II. Of course, the vast majority of racing stopped during that globe-shattering conflict, not picking back up in any sustained form until 1946.
There was the gas crisis in the early 1970s, another serious event in U.S. history, but that was limited to shortening some events for the most part.
When 9/11 happened, there was an interruption in the sport, for good reason. Nobody knew what else might be coming, and the shock and sadness of the events of that day needed some time to fade before we all went back to what we do.
This pandemic is something different. Again, nobody really knows what is coming. To be brutally honest, nobody really knows what is going on even now.
To say there will be changes is quite the understatement. How it is handled and what eventually emerges as the story of the racing season will be a story to follow for the foreseeable future.
By and large, the entire racing community — from NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, NHRA and on down to the local tracks — has banded together and hunkered down until it’s time to go racing. The product will be a bit different, I suspect, since all the work that it usually done by now will have fallen by the wayside and it will take some time to pick it up to the levels we are used to.
That said, it could be one of the most entertaining seasons in memory. This is the most gigantic curveball thrown at our sport — and yes, our society — in more than 70 years. As we are not all that old as a sport, it’s a big change.
One of the mottos I’ve always admired belongs to the United States Marine Corps. “Improvise, overcome and adapt” is the way it goes. When the current crisis abates — and I’m confident that it will sooner rather than later — it will be a huge adjustment for everyone involved.
The schedules, for one thing, will make this a season that will be a true wild card. Running more than one race a week for major series like NASCAR will be interesting and making up the dates and times lost to pandemic precautions will be wild, it will be wooly and, I think, vastly entertaining.
None of this is to diminish what we as a nation — and the rest of the world to boot — has gone through. The only way forward is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Racers are planners. Teams plan work down to the hour, racing series plan to the minute. Race fans plan entire seasons around the races they want to attend.
Given the parameters — whatever those will look like — it will be a matter of who plans the best, who performs the best for a situation where everything is about as level as it can be. The major teams in all series will have advantages, as they usually do, but there is room for smaller teams to make a lot of noise too.
As I write this, we are on the cusp of my favorite race of the year (Indianapolis 500). Knowing that it will be August before we see the balloons pour out from behind the Pagoda, hear “Back Home Again” blare from the amazingly good speakers around the old place, and experience the mad dash to turn one on the initial green flag is sobering.
But the Good Lord willing, and hoping nothing else goes particularly wrong, it will happen then.
Improvise, overcome and adapt are words to live by any day of the week. They are especially important right now. Stay the course, race fans … and take care of yourselves in the meantime.