Editor’s Note: With the outbreak of COVID-19 forcing racing around the globe to a sudden stop, SPEED SPORT is reaching out to members of the racing community to find out how the outbreak is impacting them, both as racers and in their daily lives.
This story is part of that ongoing series.
MANASSAS, Va. — For 19-year-old Mason Diaz, the life changes he’s had to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have resembled a small step back in time.
Diaz, who had been a student at Old Dominion University, has returned home in the wake of his college campus shifting all of its in-person activities and classes to online learning.
When you add living back at home to going back and handling odds and ends for the family business — his father Mike owns The Sign Shop in Woodbridge, Va. — it’s “almost like being a kid again,” Diaz joked.
“The main change for me is that obviously my college, like pretty much all the other schools in the country right now, is doing online classes,” he added. “So even though we can’t be on campus, we’re all still taking classes and all still dealing with that sort of stuff. I had a few online classes already, but now all of them are online, so I’ve been putting a lot of effort into that and making sure that’s going well.
“With living at home again now too, before I went to school, I worked full time for my father at The Sign Shop,” Diaz continued. “I would make signs and fabricate signs, so now since I’ve come back home, I’ve jumped right back into that. It’s actually been as busy for me as I was before. Between working for my dad, schoolwork and finding time to work out, I’ve been busy about 24-7, it feels like.”
While that might seem like the opposite of what someone his age would be expected to say during a time when the world has been forced to stay home, Diaz noted that he’d rather have things to do than sit idle and waiting for the next race, whenever that might be.
“It gives me something to occupy my time. At the shop itself, we’ve been shut down to the public, so instead we’re doing mostly inside work … and really focusing more on working inside the shop to clean it up, so that we can get it ready to go for when we do open back up. Being able to do something like that and keep my time occupied doing outside work or inside work, it just keeps me from staying at home losing my mind. That’s the main thing here, with the whole ‘no racing’ thing we’re dealing with.”
Diaz hasn’t been completely out of the racing loop, however. He’s spent some time on the iRacing simulation service and competed in the first four races of the Rowdy Energy Super Select Series for virtual super late models.
“That’s been a lot of fun,” he noted. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck, but we were able to come from outside the top 20 to third in our most recent one (at the virtual Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), so hopefully we’ve got some momentum moving forward now.”
As far as Diaz’s planned real-life racing schedule, that’s been thrown into flux as a result of the ongoing world health situation. He was signed by Venturini Motorsports in December to run the full ARCA Menards Series East schedule, but that division only ran one race prior to the sports shutdown.
Diaz’s lone 2020 start to date was at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway on Feb. 14, where he started 10th and ran among the contenders for much of the night before a late steering failure relegated him to a DNF and 17th-place finish.
“This racing pause really does affect everything in my life, because we had a whole entire schedule planned out. Now we don’t know when we’re going to go back racing,” Diaz said. “The No. 1 thing of importance is people’s health, obviously; I’m not worried about getting back racing until it’s a safe time to do so. But I am hoping we can get going again sooner rather than later, for sure.”
In addition, Diaz’s father, Mike, owns Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C., one of hundreds of short tracks across the country brought to a screeching halt due to localized stay-at-home orders enacted to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We have a few things in mind right now,” the younger Diaz noted in terms of rescheduling for SNMP. “Right now, the track is closed, obviously. People want to practice, but it’s wasn’t worth it even before (the stay-at-home orders) to open the gate; no one needs to get sick from it. When we get to the standpoint of when we might get back racing, we’ll think a little bit more about how we need to do stuff.
“I know we’re going to change the schedule around because right now we are shut down, so we have to change the races around,” he added. “I think we’re going to do more of that toward the end of the year, rather than run a bunch right out of the box, but we’re going to work with rescheduling races around my schedule. I can’t miss any ARCA races, so we know there won’t be any races (at SNMP) on top of those, but aside from that we’ll just have to see how long this goes and what we can do when it lets up.
“It’s all a lot of wait and see for right now.”
While Diaz and the rest of the world await the end of the pandemic, the young racer offered a positive message to his fans and the greater racing community.
“This may seem rough right now, but we’ll all get through it and we will get back to the race track,” he noted. “We may not know exactly when, but this is going to get better. Yes, it’s got a damper on things right now, but the hope is that we can reschedule all the races that are being canceled and get our ARCA East season going in a big way soon enough.”