By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After nearly two months of sitting on the sidelines, the NTT IndyCar Series has an official start date for the 2020 season to begin.
On June 6, Texas Motor Speedway will play host to the open-wheel series, which has been on hiatus since being suspended on March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, behind closed doors, without fans in attendance and only select personnel on the track grounds for the event.
The move by TMS and IndyCar mirrors the comeback by NASCAR on May 17, which will also be held without fans in the stands.
While his 1.5-mile quad oval will be front and center when the season kicks off in a little more than a month, holding a race without fans is bittersweet for track president and general manager Eddie Gossage.
“The hard part is doing it without the fans,” Gossage said. “Really, I’ve held out hope that something would change. It just is, for me, a promoter, it’s just counter-intuitive to be talking about holding a race and not having fans in attendance.”
Expressing excitement about TMS hosting the first live sporting event in the state and the race being televised to a global audience, Gossage circled back to how bad he felt about not being able to have fans be able to experience the race live and in-person at the track.
“It’s going to be the first live sports event in Texas. It’s going to come at a time when other sports cannot participate, so you won’t have a lot to compete with. We hope and IndyCar hopes that the race will have certainly increased ratings. It’s televised here in the U.S. and all around the globe and everybody, everywhere is thirsty for some live sports. That’s the upside. You think that should do well, so that’s exciting to us.
“But to me, it’s a gut punch to not have a live crowd. I’m a fan of racing and I know our fans and they want to be there. The upside is we’re one of the first sports back. I think only NASCAR will beat this IndyCar race back, but man, I hate doing it without a crowd. I just can’t get over that and I’ve been trying to get over that and get used to that idea for six or seven weeks now.”
He went on to note that the revenue from having fans at the track was normally their biggest source of income during a race weekend and not having fans attend would be a financial hit for both TMS and IndyCar. However, Gossage added that the two parties were able to parlay their relationship dating back to the opening of the track some 24 years ago into a deal that made it feasible to be able to hold the race on its original date.
“We’re going to take a hit,” Gossage said. “IndyCar is going to take a hit, financially I’m talking, but we feel like it’s an investment in the future of American motorsports. We’ve got to get the cars back on the track. These teams need their sponsorship money, which they can’t get until they’re racing. It’s just one of those things that we’ve got to endure for the current time to get things rolling again.
“Basically, we’ve got to prime the pump of commerce and get it flowing through our sport.”
Instead of practice, qualifying, and the race being spread out over multiple days, the event will now take place all on Saturday, June 6. The day will start with practice from 1:30 to 3:30 pm ET, followed by qualifying at 5:00 pm ET, and the race at 8:45 pm ET, which will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network.
The race was originally scheduled to be a 248-lap event, but the newly renamed Genesys 300 will now be just 200 laps in length to help accommodate the one-day schedule.
Following guidance from local and state health officials, the track will enforce further protocols to help keep all those in attendance safe, with some of the guidelines including:
- Strict access guidelines limiting the number of personnel on site
- A health screening system administered to all participants
- PPE equipment provided to everyone entering the facility, along with guidelines on usage
- Social distancing protocols in place and carefully maintained
- Revised competition layout to increase distancing
Gossage provided additional details about some of the precautions the track and the sanctioning body will be employing in order to keep everyone safe on race day.
“IndyCar has developed a protocol with the help of healthcare officials and we have submitted it to Texas public health folks and they’ve reviewed it,” Gossage said. “It requires every person that is involved to be screened by healthcare professionals before they’re allowed into the infield of the race track and once they’re in the infield, they shouldn’t leave.
“[Teams] are going to arrive on Saturday morning on charter jets. They’re going to be bussed to the race track and then they’re going to be there for the entire day. Practice, qualifying, and the race that night…Once the race is over, they’ll get back on these buses and go back to the airport and get back on these charter flights and go back home.
“The screening is considerable and nobody can attend without being screened.”
Before IndyCar gets their start, Charlotte Motor Speedway, a sister track to Texas will play host to NASCAR without fans between May 24 and May 27. Something Gossage said his team at TMS will be paying close attention to in order to learn anything they can about hosting a race in the midst of a pandemic.
“It’s going to be helpful,” Gossage said. “They’ll be hosting two Cup races before this IndyCar race at Texas, so I’m sure we’ll learn some things from them. You know, this is all unknown. None of us have experience in doing this kind of thing, so it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us. I don’t know what we’re going to learn, but we’re going to take the experience and use best practice to do a good job when IndyCar comes for the Genesys 300.”
IndyCar noted in their announcement that the remainder of the 15-race schedule, which was announced on April 6, still remains on track to be able to take place.
As far as what will happen with the remaining NASCAR race weekends for TMS, Gossage expressed hope that they would be able to host those postponed races later this summer and this fall.
“In 2020, we will have run all of our races, but not quite the way we wanted to do it. What are you going to do? You just roll with the punches and play the hand you’re dealt and this is the hand we’re dealt.”