Sticking to the plan outlined April 6 by INDYCAR, the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season will start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway with a 200-lap race — down 48 laps from its traditional distance — run without fans over a single day and with special precautions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Whether by luck or divine intervention, the series’ season opener, now called the Genesys 300, happened to be scheduled in a state implementing an aggressive economic recovery plan. One week before issuing an executive order that expanded his states’ reopening guidelines, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that he had been in contact with NASCAR about racing at the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth, noting that it would be without fans but that “they will put on a great show for TV.”
Like the hypothetical NASCAR event Abbott referenced last month, IndyCar’s return to TMS will play to an empty house but will air on television thanks to INDYCAR’s partnership with NBC Sports. Relieved of the burden of having to monitor a large crowd during an ongoing health crisis, Gossage’s team will instead focus on the safety of the participants who will be traveling for the first time since the March 13 cancellation of the season opener in St. Petersburg.
INDYCAR’s revised plan for the Texas race day will employ social distancing. This oft-used phrase has become a part of every American’s vocabulary since stay-at-home orders went into effect across the U.S. in March. The lack of fans will purportedly assist race teams in distancing from others and ensure that the risk of transmission is low. Mandatory health screenings for all participants entering the venue will aim to lessen the chance of the coronavirus being on the premises at all should the distancing measures prove challenging to maintain, adding an extra layer of protection for teams and drivers alike.
While the plan for the Genesys 300 seems sound and in keeping with the governor’s broader strategy to reopen Texas, states hosting subsequent events on IndyCar’s schedule have approached reopening in more measured ways. Wisconsin — set to host the second round of the championship June 21 at Road America — issued the “Badger Bounce Back” plan with specific gating criteria for resuming business activity. Currently, the state has met 50% of the requirements required to end the “Safer at Home” status quo. Assuming the gating criteria are reached by June 21, it’s unclear whether Phase 1 of the plan, which calls for a partial reopening of non-essential businesses, would allow for a race in Elkhart Lake.
Given the uncertainties involved, IndyCar could begin its delayed season in Texas only to have it delayed again by states’ differing stances on how to deal with returning to work. It’s not just Wisconsin that the series has to deal with: Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Illinois plus the Canadian province of Ontario all have scheduled dates between June and August.
IndyCar’s way forward is nothing short of Herculean in nature. Yet, if cooler heads can prevail, the compromises put in place at Texas may provide a template for approaching the rest of the calendar for as long as COVID-19 dominates headlines.
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