MOORESVILLE, N.C. — The calendar may say 2021, but it appears the racing season is going to look a lot like 2020.
Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
The last time the NASCAR Cup Series competed in front of a sellout crowd was last February’s Daytona 500. At that time, most Americans weren’t paying attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, figuring it wouldn’t impact them.
One month later, things in the United States, including sports, ground to a halt as the pandemic took hold.
Instead of 104,000 fans at this year’s Daytona 500, a limited crowd of 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend The Great American Race.
NASCAR believes it has a good handle on its schedule, but remains prepared to make changes as necessary.
By the first week of January, IndyCar had already made two major revisions to its schedule.
The start of the NTT IndyCar Series season will be delayed by an additional month with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg moving from March 5-7 to April 25. As a result, the season is now scheduled to open April 18 at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. St. Petersburg will now be the second race of the season.
It is the second major revision to the NTT IndyCar Series schedule after the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which was slated for mid-April, was moved to the final race of the season on Sept. 26.
Because positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, local government officials are unlikely to lift crowd restrictions to start the season on time. Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race promoters Kevin Savoree and Barry Green were able to host 20,000 fans at least year’s rescheduled race on Oct. 25. Savoree said it was essential to be back to 100 percent capacity in 2021 in order to make up for the financial losses incurred a year ago.
Currently, two COVID-19 vaccines have been approved, while a third has been rolled out for emergency use in the United Kingdom and is awaiting approval in the United States.
The United States is in the very early stages of vaccinations. It has been reported that between 70-90 percent of the population will have to be vaccinated in order to create herd immunity, so restrictions are likely to remain in place until at least mid-summer.
By moving the start of the season back, it gives IndyCar and its teams, promoters and fans extra time to help deal with the very slow process of battling the pandemic.
“It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude (the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg), scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.”
Because of the move, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park will raise the curtain on the season.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 18th NTT IndyCar Series event in the Sunshine City. The traditional season opener since 2011 and a fan favorite on the IndyCar schedule, the St. Pete race received a three-year title sponsorship extension from Bridgestone Americas last October.
“We appreciate the officials at IndyCar for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of GSSP, the race organizer. “We are grateful to keep the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the springtime window and also maintain the live national broadcast coverage of the race on NBC.”
Because of COVID-19, all schedules are subject to change and that’s something we just need to deal with.
Even with vaccines already developed, getting back to any degree of normalcy depends on how many citizens get vaccinated.
That may ultimately be as difficult as getting people to wear masks.