In just a few days, racing will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway, this time with thousands of fans in the stands.
On Memorial Day weekend, the Coca-Cola 600 is set to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with 100% of fans in the stands. This comes as Gov. Roy Cooper announced on May 14 that he would lift, effective immediately, most of the COVID-19 state mandated mask requirements and all of the capacity limits that have been in place since the summer of 2020.
It will be the first race back at the speedway with a significant number of fans since 2019.
“We are thrilled with today’s news that will allow fans to return to America’s Home for Racing without limitation,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “From the outset of the pandemic, whether operating a drive-through testing clinic or hosting the state’s first mass vaccination event, this has been the ultimate goal – to get back to filling the grandstands for the biggest, most entertaining events in motorsports.”
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the 2020 May race to no fans, while the fall’s Bank of America Roval 400 had an extremely limited amount.
"It was a very drastic shift to come in last year and not have fans in the stands, to not hear the cheering, to not see the smiling faces. I think it’s going to be really impactful to show up on race day and to be able to see all of those folks that can come back and experience — again this is what we work for, we’re working for those smiles, we’re working for those cheers!” Jonathan Coleman said.
Coleman, the senior director of communications for Charlotte Motor Speedway, said the return of all the fans will be a welcome sight.
"I mean all you had to do was drive down Bruton Smith Boulevard during race week and not see the campers, not see the cars in the parking lots. And I think that there is not just excitement here at the speedway for the races that are coming up, but certainly in the surrounding community. Where that ripple effect of having such a big event, really carries out to those restaurants and businesses up and down Bruton Smith Boulevard, up and down (U.S.) 29, even up and down I-85,” Coleman said.
And the impact is far-reaching, a full calendar, with fans, at the speedway creates an economic impact in the area of $400 million, according to Coleman.
Prior to Cooper's announcement, the speedway had said it would operate at 50% capacity with multiple restrictions regarding masks and seating arrangement. That has now all changed.
According to a release from the speedway, "Per the executive order announced today, fans will no longer be required to wear masks or socially distance in outdoor venues. Following state recommendations, fans who have not been vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask."
Unvaccinated fans attending the race will have the opportunity to get the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine on-site, which will be administered by Atrium Health to anyone 18 years of age or older. Vaccines will be given at no charge and with no appointment necessary.
Fans also need to know this year’s race will only allow fans to bring 14 x 14-inch clear bags into the speedway, a change from previous policy. Coleman said the change is to make it easier for security to inspect bags, without having to rummage through them. Meaning, the speedway will not allow coolers or other bags security cannot see through.
Tickets are still available for Friday and Saturday events at the track, and now additional Sunday tickets will be made available but are expected to go fast.
“There’s been great interest because fans are trying to scratch that itch that they missed last year,” Coleman said.
In the meantime, speedway employees are working quickly to return the grandstands and visitor areas to pristine condition. The stands are getting power-washed, fresh paint litters the parking lots and speedway oval, and parking and camping lots are in the process of pre-race weekend landscaping, according to Coleman.
But don’t worry, Coleman said he’s optimistic there will not be any rust when it comes to running a smooth weekend.
“We had a lot of other events and a lot of other things that were going on throughout the year last year, whether it was drive-in movies and concerts, graduations, that sort of thing. So the facility itself has been in pretty good shape,” Coleman assured NASCAR fans.
Perhaps most importantly, Coleman told Spectrum News 1 that NASCAR fans can rest assured knowing this year’s military tribute will go on, even in the shadow of the pandemic.
"Our pre-race and our salute to the military will be a little bit different, there are going to be live elements as well as virtual elements. It will be scaled down a little more, again, just within those regulations and that sort of thing. But the sentiment is still there, the military is a big part of the DNA of a NASCAR fan and that patriotism is a huge part of who we are as a sport,” Coleman said.
As preparation work continues at the speedway, anticipation will continue building among NASCAR fans as they await a return to America’s home for racing.