In just a few weeks, racing will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway, this time with thousands of fans in the stands.
Memorial Day weekend, the Coca-Cola 600 is set to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with 50% of fans in the stands.
It will be the first race back at the speedway with a significant number of fans since 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the 2020 May race to no fans, while the fall’s Bank of America Roval 400 had an extremely limited amount.
Now, race officials are hopeful this is the last race at the track limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a very drastic shift to come in last year and not have fans in the stands, to not hear the cheering, to not see the smiling faces. I think it’s going to be really impactful to show up on race day and to be able to see all of those folks that can come back and experience — again this is what we work for, we’re working for those smiles, we’re working for those cheers!” Jonathan Coleman said.
Coleman, the senior director of communications for Charlotte Motor Speedway, said the return of 50% of the fans will be a welcome sight.
“I mean all you had to do was drive down Bruton Smith Boulevard during race week and not see the campers, not see the cars in the parking lots. And I think that there is not just excitement here at the speedway for the races that are coming up, but certainly in the surrounding community. Where that ripple effect of having such a big event, really carries out to those restaurants and businesses up and down Bruton Smith Boulevard, up and down (U.S.) 29, even up and down I-85,” Coleman said.
And the impact is far-reaching, a full calendar, with fans, at the speedway creates an economic impact in the area of $400 million, according to Coleman.
But even though a large number of fans are returning later this month, COVID-19 will still cause some changes.
“We’re seating groups in pods, to try to keep some distance in-between the pods. We’ll have mask requirements in conjunction with whatever the state’s latest rules and procedures are. In addition to that, just trying to limit those touch points, so things like cashless souvenir and concession, merchandise things,” Coleman explained.
Fans also need to know this year’s race will only allow fans to bring 14 x 14-inch clear bags into the speedway, a change from previous policy. Coleman said the change is to make it easier for security to inspect bags, without having to rummage through them. Meaning, the speedway will not allow coolers or other bags security cannot see through.
Tickets are moving quickly too, especially with limited capacity and high demand from regional NASCAR fans.
“There’s been great interest because fans are trying to scratch that itch that they missed last year. The Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday is selling really well and pacing toward being at capacity very soon,” Coleman said earlier this week.
Tickets are still available for Friday and Saturday events at the track. However, Sunday’s event is now sold out for the limited capacity, according to the speedway website.
It states, “Charlotte Motor Speedway has reached the approved socially distance capacity for the Coca-Cola 600, but we are working with state and local health officials to open additional seating areas to allow additional fans to attend. You may make an event deposit to secure your priority if we are able to accommodate additional fans.”
In the meantime, speedway employees are working quickly to return the grandstands and visitor areas to pristine condition. The stands are getting power-washed, fresh paint litters the parking lots and speedway oval, and parking and camping lots are in the process of pre-race weekend landscaping, according to Coleman.
But don’t worry, Coleman said he’s optimistic there will not be any rust when it comes to running a smooth weekend.
“We had a lot of other events and a lot of other things that were going on throughout the year last year, whether it was drive-in movies and concerts, graduations, that sort of thing. So the facility itself has been in pretty good shape,” Coleman assured NASCAR fans.
Perhaps most importantly, Coleman told Spectrum News 1 that NASCAR fans can rest assured knowing this year’s military tribute will go on, even in the shadow of the pandemic.
“Our pre-race and our salute to the military will be a little bit different, there are going to be live elements as well as virtual elements. It will be scaled down a little more, again, just within those regulations and that sort of thing. But the sentiment is still there, the military is a big part of the DNA of a NASCAR fan and that patriotism is a huge part of who we are as a sport,” Coleman said.
As preparation work continues at the speedway, anticipation will continue building among NASCAR fans as they await a return to America’s home for racing.
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