Down South, folks have some quaint phrases to express what they are thinking or feeling. Here’s one of them: “I ain’t never seen the beat of it.”
This means that a person has seen or experienced something entirely new or completely different.
Now, here’s what I think of the 2020 NASCAR racing season:
I ain’t never seen the beat of it. And I daresay you haven’t either.
This coronavirus, COVID-19 – whatever you want to call it – thing has disrupted lives all over the world. There are millions of cases. People have died.
It has transformed how we live, how we work and how we play. Nationally, we have been, with a few exceptions, locked down in quarantine for several months now.
I’ve discovered that Netflix has some binge-worthy stuff.
I don’t know about you, but I wear a mask.
It was in March that the pandemic had spread so far that nationwide shutdowns were mandated. Among many other developments, professional sports ceased operations.
NASCAR was included. After the season’s fourth race of the 2020 season at Phoenix Raceway was concluded, racing ceased. I would surmise that fans had no idea when, or if, it would return.
But it did return. In fact, NASCAR established a framework for the resumption of competition that has been successful to date and is the model used by other sports in their own return.
NASCAR has made it work.
When NASCAR announced the new, virus-deterrent format to its schedules and the rules of competition, suffice it to say I ain’t never seen the beat of it.
The season would resume on May 17 at Darlington Raceway with a second event at the track set for May 20 – gasp! That was a Wednesday, for crying out loud!
There would be no practice. There would be no qualifying, just a refitted drawing for position. The number of crewmen allowed at the track would be restricted. Drivers were not allowed in the garage area. The number of media members at the track would also be reduced – down to four, and none of them were allowed anywhere except the media center. Interviews would be conducted via video. Everyone must wear a mask, and fans would not be allowed to attend.
I’m pretty sure I was like many fans when I heard all of this. NASCAR has lost its mind. It simply wasn’t going to work.
But it has.
And why? Because it has met every challenge of the virus – to date – and still managed to supply us with action, competition – and controversy. Oh, it’s not the same, for sure. But given the circumstances it has worked.
When it all began, my first questions were: why Darlington? And how does the track feel about not having ticket and concession revenue?
The answer to the first question came quickly. Darlington is owned by International Speedway Corp. In turn, ISC is part of NASCAR. Therefore, Darlington is part of NASCAR. So it will do what the sanctioning body tells it to do. Simple.
Additionally, Darlington is a short drive from the Charlotte area, the headquarters for most race teams. There would be no expensive, virus-attractive, lengthy travel, especially by air.
It only took a phone call to answer the second question. I was told that the only revenue Darlington would receive was television money. But that wouldn’t be bad at all, given one race would be held in prime time.
And more important, the speedway’s expenses would be reduced significantly, given, among other things, that personnel – from ticket takers to concession workers to security – would not be needed.
This has held true for almost every other track.
Hey, we have discovered that NASCAR doesn’t need practice or qualifying to conduct a successful race. Bring ‘em in and start ‘em up in record time. It’s quick and inexpensive. Teams are saving money.
I can remember when teams demanded as much practice time as they could get. It reached the point where the late Dick Beaty, the Winston Cup director at the time, would post on the NASCAR board outside the hauler the number of practice hours for the day.
One day, the post read: “6 1/2 hours of practice!”
I saw that and asked a crew chief if it was it a good thing.
“We haven’t been on the track for two hours,” he said. “We don’t want a worn-out car or driver.”
To its credit, NASCAR has announced there will be no practice or qualifying for the remainder of the season.
And it seems the rest of the year will be composed of weekend races.
Midweek events have some appeal, but I think the roadblock to their future is created by ticket sales. Tracks have expressed concern that selling a workweek race is decidedly more difficult than a weekend event.
No fans at a race may be the safest way to play it. But let’s hope the day comes when they will return and be welcomed with open arms. There are many explanations for it, but the best is that fans provide the backbone, lifeblood, spirit and soul of the sport.
I ain’t never seen the beat of ‘em.
About the author
Steve Waid has been in journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.
Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing. For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”
In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.