Behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend

SPARTA, Ky. — Take a right off Exit 57 on Interstate 71 and turn right at the bottom of the ramp, you’ll see trees and rolling hills. Peering over those hills is the control tower of Kentucky Speedway. I drove a mile up Sparta Pike, then turned left on Jerry Carroll Boulevard, onto the track property.

Now allow me to pull back the curtain and take you behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend.

Behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend

Entering the track

As the United States is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed in attendance. Only “essential personnel” were permitted on the premises.

Being among those deemed “essential,” I proceeded to the first security checkpoint to obtain my credentials. After doing so, I sat in my car for roughly 20 minutes, as health screenings paused, due to a lightning strike.

The queue for the screenings grew, as minutes passed.

Eventually, the medical screenings moved down inside the Turn 3 tunnel. Above the golf cart overpass hanged a banner honoring NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson.

When I pulled inside, a health worker checked my temperature. Afterwards, I drove to the end of the tunnel and turned around to drive out of the track. I turned left onto the golf cart path and drove up to the front of Gate 15, the main gate at Kentucky Speedway. Because it wasn’t a normal race weekend, I took my car inside the gate and parked underneath the control tower. For context, on a normal race weekend, I’d park in a lot behind the garage area.

The downside of an abnormal race weekend was that the parking lots in front of the track were barren.

Missing were the rows of cars, trucks and RVs with driver banners and flags. No tents and grills, plus the aroma of campfires and beer. Gone were fans draped in gaudy driver apparel conversing with other fans. No merchandise/souvenir haulers or Smith family attractions occupied the land in front of the track.

All that I saw was asphalt, grass and rocks.

Behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend

Passing the time

Due to not timing my trip up to Kentucky from Knoxville, Tennessee, correctly, I spent the next three hours by my car. Spotter after spotter drove up to Gate 15 and followed suite.

Some took a nap in their car, some pulled out their phones, some conversed with spotters parked next to them and some watched episodes of “Maid Sama!.”

OK, that last one was me, but the point is we all found ways to pass the time.

None of this stopped the activity that went on in the infield.

Being the first of two NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Kentucky Speedway, teams with sponsor-laden masks pushed their cars through inspection and onto the grid.

Finally, a 6 p.m. ET, I entered the press box. It was my first time in a NASCAR press box in over two years.

Eventually, Adam Niemeyer of WXIX FOX 19, Chris Knight of (who passed the time watching “Return of the Jedi”), Gary Graves of the Associated Press and Jason Hoffman* of The Cincinnati Enquirer joined me up top.

Finally, it was time to race.

SPARTA, KENTUCKY – JULY 09: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Snap-On Ford, celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Shady Rays 200 at Kentucky Speedway on July 09, 2020 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Austin Cindric beatย Chase Briscoe in an overtime restart to win on an oval for the first time in his career.

Afterwards, we all typed our stories and waited on results of post-race inspection. Finally, NASCAR announced that everyone passed inspection. So we all packed up our things and drove to our hotels for the night.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story left out Jason Hoffman’s name.


TOP IMAGE: Rob Carr/Getty Images