Fans get green flag to attend Dover NASCAR race weekend

Delaware gives speedway go-ahead to allow limited number of spectators

By Mike Finney
Posted 4/19/21

DOVER — Dover International Speedway will be allowed to have fans on hand for its NASCAR race weekend in May, track officials announced this afternoon.

How many fans will be permitted to …

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Fans get green flag to attend Dover NASCAR race weekend

Delaware gives speedway go-ahead to allow limited number of spectators


DOVER — Dover International Speedway got the news from the Delaware Division of Public Health on Monday that it can go back to holding its original Zoom meetings — the kind that involve NASCAR drivers racing high-powered cars at 150 mph in front of fans in the grandstands.

Now all that remains to be settled is just how many fans Dover will be able to host for the upcoming May 14-16 NASCAR tripleheader weekend at the track known as the “Monster Mile.”

State public health officials did tell Dover International Speedway officials that the racetrack will be able to host fans after approving the track’s health and safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it remains unclear how many fans Dover will be able to host.

“We appreciate the confidence the state has displayed in our team to be allowed fans in our grandstands and on our property in May for these outdoor events,” said Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, in a statement Monday. “Hosting the most loyal fans in NASCAR (focused on)) public safety remains our top priority and we’ll be communicating specific tips and requirements to fans before and during our May 14-16 NASCAR weekend.”

Dover officials announced that the track can accommodate guests who have already purchased tickets for race weekend, including the Drydene 400 NASCAR Cup Series race that will highlight the weekend on Sunday, May 16 (2 p.m., FS1). They did not announce how many tickets have already been sold.

They also said all ticket sales for the Drydene 400 were paused starting Monday so that purchased seats can be reassigned for social distancing. Fans will receive direct communication from the track requiring them to submit an attendance decision and are urged to respond quickly.

Ever since the Monster Mile celebrated its 100th NASCAR Cup Series race in October 2019, it has not had race fans in its grandstands or on speedway grounds.

Just like everywhere else on the sports and entertainment landscape, Dover International Speedway has not been immune to the COVID-19 pandemic – and has not hosted fans over the past year and a half.

The coronavirus forced the cancellation of last May’s NASCAR race weekend. It was eventually run as a doubleheader in August in front of a sea of empty seats.

Now NASCAR fans such as Dover’s Bruce Lee are looking forward to returning to the colorful, loud NASCAR experience in person.

“There’s no other sport like it,” Mr. Lee said. “To hear the roar of the engines, smell the gasoline and rubber burning, it’s just always an awesome experience, and one that I really have missed. I look forward to returning to the grandstands and rooting against Kyle Busch.”

If other racetracks serve as any indication, it appears as if Dover could eventually fall in line with just about every other facility that has hosted NASCAR events this year by limiting attendance to around 20% capacity to allow for social distancing. If Dover were permitted to reach that threshold, it could potentially host around 12,000 fans.

Mr. Tatoian certainly hopes fans will be in attendance, considering the excitement that has been generated over the first portion of this Cup season – with eight different winners in the first nine races.

Special fan procedures will include social distancing in grandstands and concession lines, the use of digital tickets for all grandstand seats, the required wearing of masks, staggered grandstand entrance times, enhanced cleaning in high-traffic areas, added hand sanitizer stations and infield access prohibited except for race teams, track personnel and select media.

Mr. Tatoian said officials at Dover International Speedway are poised to meet all the COVID-19 criteria because NASCAR’s passionate fan base is a large part of what makes race weekends so special.

Every fan has his or her favorite driver, proudly wears T-shirts and hats to the track and are the No. 1 reason sponsors join the sport to advertise their products.

“The drivers really seem to enjoy their work even more when they get to perform in front of fans,” Mr. Tatoian said. “The sports industry is built with one thing in mind — entertaining fans on television, digital media and in person. The ultimate excitement in any sport is to experience it live — to hear it, feel it, see it and even smell it – while it all unfolds in real time right in front of you, surrounded by family and friends.

“The energy that fans bring to the track is felt by the drivers and our staff, and that is what drives all of us to put on the best show possible, both on and off the track. Nothing is better than hearing the command for drivers to start their engines and to hear the rumble of the cars as they fire up. It’s about the most hair-raising fan event a sports fan can experience, and the only way that happens is to be here in person.”

Local businesses thrilled

The return of NASCAR to Dover will certainly be a boon to the area’s economy, but certainly won’t compete with some of the economic impact the races generated on the local economy in the early 2000’s.

Dover International Speedway had hosted two races a year for nearly 50 years but announced last June that it would be moving one of its races to Nashville Superspeedway this year, another track owned by Dover Motorsports.

Dover began hosting NASCAR races in 1969 and had hosted two Cup Series races each year from 1971 to 2020.

A 2001 study estimated that the NASCAR races brought around $94 million annually into the area. However, a 2019 Delaware Department of Transportation economic impact study on state airports had the economic impact lower at around $60 million.

And while a hosting a limited crowd this spring certainly won’t have business owners dancing in the streets, hotel owners will finally be able to host race fans again, local restaurants and bars will be able to serve them, and retailers will be able to help the fans stock up on food and gear for their campsites around the track. It can’t hurt.

Besides the Cup Series race on May 16, NASCAR fans will also be in town to also watch the General Tire 125 ARCA Menards Series East race (5 p.m.) on Friday, May 14 and the Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash race (1:30 p.m., FS1) on Saturday, May 15.

“It’s no secret that Dover and Kent County have taken a huge hit with the loss of a race, a race in abstentia and an uncertain spring race,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said. “Tourism and the hospitality industry have suffered an unknown financial hit, which I’m not sure of the exact figures.

“It is imperative for the race to go on with the presence of COVID-cautious fans. With the advent of vaccines and continued precautions by fans the race needs to go. Gentlemen start your engines.”

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, was also thinking positive thoughts when she found out Dover would be able to host NASCAR fans next month.

“We are so excited that NASCAR can have fans back in the stands,” said Ms. Diogo. “It will be very beneficial to the entire Central Delaware community and all the businesses. This also sends a positive message out to the community – our businesses will keep you safe – Central Delaware is safe. Come back and see us!”

Diane Laird, the executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership, hopes some of those race fans find their way about a mile of so from the racetrack to see some of the attractions in the downtown area.

“The city of Dover and the hospitality industry benefit so greatly from the loyal race fans,” Ms. Laird said. “And truly, the fans deserve an opportunity to see the drivers and enjoy their annual long weekend in Dover now that the vaccines are so accessible, and the pandemic appears to have nearly run its course.”

Setting the bar

NASCAR has served as a sports and entertainment leader ever since the pandemic arrived in March 2020. It was the first professional sport to return to competition last year following the virus outbreak and came up with strict protocols for drivers and their pit crew members to enter the racetracks once they returned to competition.

There has yet to be a serious COVID-19 outbreak in the NASCAR industry.

“In the past 12-plus months, all of the stakeholders of NASCAR quickly came together and worked remarkably well to set the bar as to how to reintroduce live sports back to the sports world,” Mr. Tatoian said. “The pandemic divided the country, and NASCAR brought the country back together again to start the path back to normalcy. We are proud to play a small part in it.”

Now, he says just being able to see some happy faces in Dover’s grandstands will truly make it a merry month of May.