DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – As NASCAR gets ready for the Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile is focused on making this a safe race for the fans.
Wile said his team has had a lot of practice dealing with all the COVID-19 precautions and they will have help from IMC across the street to enforce mask requirements both at the venue and the infield. He also noted that most fans are compliant with the mask requirements. In a recent virtual interview, Wile said that it feels like a privilege to be able to have fans in the stands and that it’s sad they can’t have a sold-out race, but that’s just how it is.
When asked about any problems with fans and Confederate flags, Wile said that a few fans have worn shirts with Confederate flags on them and they were asked to change clothes. Most were good with that request. On a few occasions, he and his team even gave fans t-shirts to put on because they did not have another shirt with them.
Wile also said that the pre-race festivities will be different because the drivers will stay within the “bubble” and Luke Combs will be playing to the venue instead of the ball field. He also said that he has been sending out gifts and hand-written notes to displaced fans to say “thank you” for their continued support. Some of the drivers have even held special events for those displaced fans as well.
This year will debut two new racing teams:
- Trackhouse Racing, co-owned by Pitbull and Justin Marks, has been two years in the making. Their driver Daniel Suárez will be driving the #99 Chevy Camaro. The team hopes to bring more Latino fans to NASCAR. Pitbull has been a fan of NASCAR since watching Days of Thunder and he said, “We are here for one reason and one reason only. It’s to create awareness, clearly for NASCAR, clearly for Trackhouse, but more than anything, to show that this brings people together. And if there is anything, we need in these times right now something that unites people, not divides people.”
- 23XI Racing, co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, will feature Bubba Wallace in the #23 Toyota Camry. When asked about the race being on Valentine’s Day and during Black History Month, Wallace said that it would be a fairytale ending if he won the race after everything that has gone on this past year. He also said he is “looking forward to running in the top 10 each and every week.”
In a recent virtual interview, Kurt Busch, who drives the #1 Chevy Camaro, talked about how the track at Daytona “can humble you.” He said that in the years before his win at Daytona, “there’s a humility within you that says the track is still in control. Then when I won in 2017 it was an experience beyond any other. But then when you come back and the race doesn’t go well, you are again humbled by the track.”
This past year, Ryan Newman, who drives the #6 Ford Mustang, has been consulting with NASCAR on safety but he doesn’t consider himself a “consultant.” He says that the communication with NASCAR has not been any different when it comes to discussions on safety. With the 20th Anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s fatal crash, Ryan reflected on how similar his crash last year was to Earnhardt’s and said the progress made in safety is apparent in the simple fact that he walked away from his crash. When asked about this year’s race, Ryan said it would be amazing if he could be in the same position towards the end of the race as he was last year.
Even though there will not be as many fans at the Speedway as in previous years, NASCAR fans are ready for the green flag, and with the new teams and the changes to other teams, this year promises to be one to remember.
Lynn DeJarnette is a sports, politics and lifestyle reporter for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org