WALTZ: Lessons Learned In Trying Times

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Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — The first six months of this year were unlike any other period in our lifetime.

Things got off to a roaring start, especially for the motorsports industry, but the COVID-19 pandemic soon brought the world to its knees and racing to a halt. With various stay-at-home orders in place across the nation, we were forced to adapt to a new way of life.

As spring headed into summer, however, a sense of normalcy was starting to return even though the coronavirus continued to be a tough and deadly opponent.

NASCAR was racing in front of empty grandstands while more and more short tracks were opening their gates and race fans were answering the siren’s call.

During these unprecedented times, we learned about social distancing, flattening the curve and the advantages of wearing a mask.

We also learned a few things about our sport:

– One slip of the tongue can instantly derail a promising career. Kyle Larson went from being a candidate to replace seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports to driving Paul Silva’s sprint car.

– NASCAR has greatly improved the safety of its race cars. The sanctioning body and its engineers have done a very good job in recent years and their efforts received national praise after Ryan Newman escaped serious injury in a devastating crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

– Online racing is no longer in the shadows. With the real race cars parked, iRacing worked with multiple sanctioning bodies and various media outlets to fill the void, exposing many fans to a form of the sport they had never experienced.

– Racers are a resilient bunch. You may knock them down, but they will bounce back stronger and tougher.

– Even a 10-time World of Outlaws sprint car champion can have a bad night. After a disappointing qualifying effort at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., on May 23, Donny Schatz needed a provisional to start the feature. It was the first time Schatz had used a provisional in more than a year.

– NASCAR races are too long. The sanctioning body’s radical schedule — including mid-week events — following its return to racing, demonstrated that most of the NASCAR Cup Series races are too long and people lose interest. Only the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 should be more than 300 miles from flag to flag.

– It’s time for Terry McCarl to make a decision. After his work in organizing and promoting the April 25 sprint car race at South Dakota’s Park Jefferson Int’l Speedway and his annual efforts with the popular Front Row Challenge in Oskaloosa, Iowa, it’s time for the Sprint Car Hall of Famer to hang up his helmet and focus on being a promoter.

The sport would definitely benefit from an increase in his promotional efforts.

– Chase Elliott vs. Kyle Busch is the type of rivalry NASCAR needs. It might have been started because Busch made a simple mistake at Darlington, but NASCAR’s communications team needs to pour gasoline on the flames because a rivalry between the sport’s most popular driver and its most controversial driver would generate tremendous interest.

– Major speedways truly are multi-use facilities. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Daytona Int’l Speedway are among the motorsports facilities that hosted graduation ceremonies for multiple high schools in their areas.

– Clint Bowyer’s future is in the TV booth. Currently in his 15th season of NASCAR Cup Series racing, Bowyer has been both entertaining and informative while working with the FOX broadcast team. He’ll be able to successfully make the transition whenever he decides to step out of the cockpit for the final time.

– Virtual trickery has real-world consequences. Audi and Formula E driver Daniel Abt parted ways after it was discovered Abt had an 18-year-old professional sim driver race for him during the fifth round of Formula E’s online series. Abt claimed it was all meant as a joke, which he intended to publicize after the fact.