As NASCAR seeks to resume its season May 17 after a lengthy pit stop from COVID-19, my befuddlement grows daily. I get the whole economic side and the need to continue the sport so that it does not lose any of the “traction” that it may have developed. The sport seeks a need to become a COVID-19 survivor.
But perhaps we’re moving too quickly.
Maintaining safety is of paramount focus. Oh, or maybe it is not. The Frontstretch Slack channel has featured long discussions about safety and how racetracks could be a Petri dish for reigniting the virus if it genuinely has been corralled.
It seems that the real focus, to me, is ensuring that the owners get paid. Of course, there’s one side who argues that the staff, builders, mechanics and engineers are the focus, not the owners. The people working in the shop are the ones that provide the litany of support that helps a driver go fast.
Races need to happen so that the staff and crew can get paid, so that the sponsors can resume sending checks, so TV partners resume sending checks and so the sport doesn’t crumble. As NASCAR has fought for relevance over the past decade, any recession into the further reaches of the mind might leave it a wistful memory. That means the money needs to start hitting bank accounts.
But there are more prominent players at the table. The France family needs theirs… just like the owners want theirs. The politicians and the evangelists are also out to make sure their message can be heard. The politicos must prove they are right about COVID-19 being a hoax or to be able to keep their voice heard in the election cycle. For evangelists, they need their money coming in for those mega-churches.
These decisions feel rushed and shortsighted. The desire to bring the sport back, even in its newly fashioned outlines, still does not mitigate much in the way of the issues that may follow. For this virus is a confusing and yet unknown monster for some, and who really knows who the ‘some’ are at this point.
I say that knowing one of those was me. I got the virus at the beginning of March. By March 10, I’d married my bed and stayed in it for probably four days straight. I rarely left the bed – bathroom trips and short dog walks excluded – and really spent those days sleeping.
I started to feel better toward the end of that first week, but that feeling was short-lived as I quickly plateaued, getting only slightly better and never really improving to the point of becoming healthy.
I’m not trying to brag, but I am a healthy human. I get my blood tested at least three times per year because of certain reasons and checked by my physician on a schedule that doubles that. I tend to run rather frequently. All the usual measures, prior to getting the virus, indicated that I had no pre-existing conditions. That’s what makes the whole journey so frustrating.
During the second week, I struggled. I fought an ever-present cough, didn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate and became a shell of a person. At the end of that week, my significant other twisted my arm and forced me to the hospital.
Aside from being treated like I was radioactive, the nurses and doctor ran every possible test they could. Flu. Sepsis. Bronchitis. X-Rays. Blood tests. Urine sample. All the fun stuff. Everything came back, indicating that I was healthy.
But the doctor stood there looking at my monitor and expressed his frustration. I had a temperature over 100 degrees. My breathing pattern was far too rapid, as I took way too many breaths per minute. And, of course, the cough was a concern. After two IV bags, a bit of sedative and time spent freezing in the hospital, the doctor came in and said that he’d filled out paperwork to have me admitted, but he was giving me the option to go home and rest under strict quarantine for the next two weeks.
I took the second option and began a secluded life at home. Then, I spent another week living in my fog. I started to watch TV, but I couldn’t pay attention for long and sat dazed. I couldn’t read or write. It felt like I could barely form more than a couple of sentences, maintaining life as a lump for over another week.
I’ll admit to feeling moments of despair. What if I get worse? How come I’m not getting better? I’d read enough to know about healthy people dying from the virus and had to wonder about myself. What made everything more bizarre was when I got a call from the hospital saying that my COVID-19 test came back negative.
And then, the doctor called and told me to disregard the results. Moments like that signify everything that is wrong with our current situation regarding testing, reopening the country and exactly what we’re facing. The fact that every test has indicated that I’m healthy continues to make me smirk in bemusement.
Over the fourth week, I finally began to feel a more considerable improvement, one that took me to maybe 70-75% healthy, and again, I hovered for a bit. Then, I made my way to maybe 85% and paused again.
If I didn’t have the coronavirus (I’ve been assured that I did), then whatever I have or had is something else that no one should contract. And if I did, then I can say firsthand that it can be terrible and debilitating.
My cough still lingers. I’m still prone to lethargy. I’m back to functioning, but I still have questions that will never be answered. That doesn’t matter as much as being aware of what this thing can do.
Every fan wants racing to drop the green flag and resume competition. Many people who aren’t fans might even want racing to return to action. As much as the sport is predicated on speed, there should not, however, be a rush to return. Drivers, knowingly, take their lives into their hands every time they flip the ignition switch. But does the sport really need to put any more people than are necessary in harm’s way just to feed a race fan’s desires?
The casual and trivial manner in opening the sport back up, even with its limitations, brings a feeling of resentment. As someone who survived, I’ve been fortunate. But I still went through a month getting my ass kicked by the virus.
It’s true not everyone will get so sick; this insidious disease has its share of asymptomatic carriers. For those who skate by its debilitating effects, good for them. There’s the other side of the situation though, lurking, ready to bring down even the healthy people.
I’m a fan and a writer, and I love motorsports. I’d like to see racing like anyone else, but maybe keeping the cars parked for another week or two is not such a bad idea. Maybe the adage that patience is a virtue should be circling people’s minds and not the cars circling the track.
For a sport that sometimes loves to throw yellows, maybe it’s best to err on the side of caution.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.