On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped almost 22 percent in a single day. It marked the beginning of a global stock market decline that lasted a month. That day became known as “Black Monday.”

To fans of sprint car racing, June 29-30, 2020, are days that will live in infamy and could be remembered as “Black-Flag Monday and Tuesday.” First, the Kings Royal, scheduled for July 15-18 at Eldora Speedway near Rossburg, Ohio, was postponed until 2021. The next day, the 60th running of the Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway was pushed back a year.

Confusion reigned, just as it had since the global pandemic began early this year. Many disagree about its severity, but the pandemic is a reality. As more and more tests have been administered, the number of COVID-19 cases have continued to climb and opinions on how to stop the virus vary from coast to coast.

In some areas, the virus spiked early and in other areas the roller-coaster ride was heading uphill as the calendar turned to July. The fact is, people are getting sick — and many are dying.

COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for the Knoxville Nationals to go on as planned this year.
COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for the Knoxville Nationals to go on as planned this year.

In that light, to talk about racing events seems trivial, but racing, like most things in the world today, continues to be impacted by the pandemic.

Some smaller tracks have gotten back to “business as ususal.” Some have been fined or forced to close by government officials. Weighing the balance of safety versus the bottom line is not easy for businesses facing collapse. Venues such as Eldora and Knoxville do not have that option.

The difference is in numbers and geography. Both the Kings Royal and the Knoxville Nationals attract more than 20,000 people. Those are the numbers. They also attract visitors from all over the world. A few years ago, the Knoxville Nationals had ticket requests from 48 states and 17 countries. Put all of those people from every corner of the globe in close confines and it’s easy to understand the concern.

Leaders at both venues did all they could to conduct the events, working with government officials to devise plans that met state and local health guidelines. Eldora officials made their decision less than three weeks before the Kings Royal weekend was scheduled to begin. All camp sites had been sold, which is another issue.

A venue as large as Eldora Speedway has to be in constant contact with local and state health officials; and Eldora was.  Many efforts and plans were discussed. The last was a plan that would have reduced the half-mile track’s available seating to 17.76 percent of capacity. The plan was turned down by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Even if that plan had been accepted, imagine having to decide which fans could attend the race, and the agonizing work of informing those who couldn’t. Events like the Kings Royal and the Knoxville Nationals are fan based.

“Governor Mike DeWine texted me to deliver the unfortunate news,” said Eldora Speedway general manager Roger Slack. “While acknowledging the importance of our events, especially for Darke County, he stated the orders in place continue to prohibit spectators from motorsports events. We remain in constant communication with state officials regarding other upcoming events at Eldora as we work to bring fans back to our facility as soon and as safely as possible, all while adhering to the mandates issued by the Ohio Department of Health.”

In Iowa, venues were open to 50 percent capacity, but once social-distancing requirements were taken into account only about 34 percent of Knoxville Raceway’s grandstand seats were available. When the track hosted a pair of World of Outlaws races and its weekly programs, it allowed seating in every other row. That’s 50 percent, then take into account six feet between groups and that eliminates a lot of seats. As a result, Knoxville Raceway capped its seating capacity at 7,000.

That’s plenty of seating for a weekly show, the 360 Nationals or even a World of Outlaws visit.  It’s not nearly enough for the Knoxville Nationals.

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