In a press conference on Thursday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper designated NASCAR as an essential business, paving the way for teams to return to work, so long as they social distance and so long as local ordinances do not preclude them from doing so.
“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they can begin working in their garages as an essential business as defined under our executive order," Cooper said. "(Teams) are still in contact with local health departments. Local governments may have some different health restrictions."
At the same time, Cooper extended the state's stay-at-home order, which began on March 30, until May 8. The order was scheduled to expire on April 29.
When asked about the potential for running the Coke 600 as planned on May 24, Cooper said: "I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners, they have come forward with a plan to try to protect their employees, a proposal that there would be no fans in the stands.
"Right now our public health officials are examining their proposals and they’re also talking to local governments there, their (shops) are in several counties around Charlotte, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg about how they would run their (shops) and to get the cars ready, they need a couple of weeks ahead of time. We’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon after we’ve had more conversations with public health officials and with NASCAR officials."
Also on Thursday, The State newspaper reported Darlington Raceway in South Carolina might announce a spring race, perhaps as early as May 17.
At the start of the season, the Southern 500 at Darlington was scheduled to be the first race of the playoffs on September 6.
The announcement was made by Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism during a meeting with South Carolina business leader. The track did not comment on the report and NASCAR has not yet announced a revised schedule.
Earlier in the week and over the weekend, both Florida and Texas indicated a desire to be among the first tracks to host races. Texas has even gone so far as to suggest June 6 as a date with IndyCar running alongside as the first double-header for the two series.
All race plans are predicated on the notion that fans will not be allowed in attendance and safety measures to comply with CDC guidelines are in place.
The appeal of running the first couple of races at Darlington and Charlotte are that both tracks are within driving distance of most NASCAR shops. Darlington is two hours away, which would allow team members to return home each night and limit exposure to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections that might occur with a hotel stay. Charlotte is literally around the corner of most teams.
Throughout the crisis, NASCAR has said they intend to run all 36 races and would like for the playoffs to remain as scheduled. They have not explicitly said that every race track will host the same number of races originally scheduled, however. It is unlikely that local and state restrictions will be relaxed by mid-June, which is the date currently given to the Sonoma race.
And particularly hard hit, it is not inconceivable that it may be well into the fall or even next year before operations return to a semblance of normalcy in some states. Hence: the option to be adaptable.
This weekend, two South Dakota dirt tracks will host races on Saturday and Sunday. Both tracks planned to have a limited number of fans in attendance, well below capacity to allow for social distancing. Midweek, both tracks changed course and made the decision to race without fans after further consultation with state and local authorities.