By: Deb Broadwater
I’m not one to brag, but I was one of the lucky 30,000 people able to attend Bristol this past weekend during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday night, I loaded my Jeep up with the proper essentials that most race fans take to a race: alcohol, tent, camp chairs, food, my racing headset, and my favorite driver’s gear. Typical stuff, but there’s even more gear needed in this day and age. This year I added bottles of hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, masks, and rubber gloves. Yep, going to a NASCAR race is definitely different in 2020, but a lot of it hasn’t changed.
We wore gloves for pumping gas, and used a bottle of hand sanitizer at every stop we made. We took sanitizing wipes and went into full C.S.I. mode over all the surfaces of the hotel where we stayed. We wore masks in every restaurant, truck stop, and rest area. We did our jobs to ensure that we were as safe as possible.
When we got to Bristol Motor Speedway, we were elated, as were the many other fans who chose to attend Friday’s Xfinity Series race. We wore masks on property as per Bristol Motor Speedway’s suggestions, although we removed them for a few pictures at the infamous “It’s Bristol Baby” sign. We used a credit card for the purchases we made on their property as well, because they weren’t accepting cash. Then came race time! We were scanned for our temperature, used our phones as our tickets, and we were finally inside the great colliseum after not attending a race since Daytona 500 Speedweeks all the way back in February. The energy in the air was incredible. So many happy, mask-abiding fans were there. They, like me wanted to take in any racing they could get, no matter the circumstances. It was a great experience for all of us.
Day two was a little different than day one. Initially, we were in the parking lot at 10 AM with some friends of mine. We set up our tents, pulled our coolers out, and started our tailgate. One major difference though, everyone kept to their groups instead of mingling amongst the other race fans. We would say “hi” as people walked passed, but everyone stayed apart, something that isn’t the normal during your average race day. There were no pre-race concerts, and no driver appearances, but you could still feel the excitement in the air. When we walked in, we were put through another temperature check and a clear bag check, with a turkey bag full of ice and beer, and we were in. It didn’t take long to get into the track. Everyone inside was masked up and there were plenty of hand washing stations, the bathrooms/common areas were immaculate and the excitement was there, despite the differences in attending. No coolers were allowed, only clear bags, no cash, and the temperature check did nothing to stop the fans from doing what they love: attending NASCAR races. It was electric. No one minds these extra precautions because they’re simply happy to get to see a race in person.
I got to meet a few friends that I hadn’t seen before, but talk to frequently on social media. I met Michael Palmer (@Mikey2082) and his son, a person I’ve spoken with on Twitter frequently, who hadn’t been to a race since Homestead Miami in 2019. We wore our masks and were happy just to finally connect in person. Michael has said, “It was the most normal that life has felt in these last 7 months.” I couldn’t agree more. As someone who attends anywhere from 6-10 races a year, it felt so good to be surrounded by other fans, friends, and the all too familiar smell of burnt rubber.
I was able to meet my friends and even swap gear and pictures we had picked up for each other that I had been saving since March (@yep_itsphilip) got to put faces to names I’ve talked to, and featured in my first NASCAR articles (@Weslynfugate).
I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to attend this race with 30,000 of my stock car racing friends. I didn’t have one issue at or around the track. I felt safe everywhere I went, both on and off the property. Kudos to Bristol Motor Speedway and NASCAR for safely pulling off events like these!