Socially Distant Racing: Heading to Daytona as Florida’s Covid Numbers Hit a New Record

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jul 6, 2020 | IMSA, COVID-19 | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

On the same day that Florida recorded a high score for new positive Covid cases–nearly 11,500 added to the tally for just July 4, enough to almost tie New York’s peak–we headed to Daytona International Speedway for the IMSA WeatherTech 240. 

The things we do for a story. 

And a love of racing. 

Why did you go? Science. Journalism. Also, to share the experience. 

Really? Also, we have the advantage of little investment. Daytona International Speedway sits about 15 minutes away from home. If things looked uncomfortable, we figured that we could easily abort the mission with little lost. 

Who is this we? Me–Editorial Director David S. Wallens–and my wife. 

Aren’t you afraid of the Covid? Yes, very much. Even before things hit the fan, I decided to stop shaking hands. If you ran into me at the Amelia Island Concours–back in early March–you would have gotten a wave or a bow. Not even an elbow bump. For those who didn’t take the hint, I offered one: “I don’t want to get you sick.”

The GRM staff has been working at home for more than 110 days. We adapted rather quickly. 

On a more personal level, a cousin of mine–an MD in New York City–worked in a Covid ward. This was right as the City was getting a handle on things. Still, seeing his selfie in full PPE was sobering. 

Another cousin–this one living in California–got it badly. His take on it was something like this: You don’t want it. 

Why was this race so special? While club-level events have gone green in the past month or so, pro sports car racing only rebooted this weekend. This was IMSA’s first event in more than five months. SRO restarts its schedule next week. Then IMSA at at Sebring. 

Back to the Daytona race, how bad was pre-race traffic? Not bad at all. The event website said that parking would start at 3:00 with gates opening at 4:00. Green flag was scheduled for 6:10. We got to the track close to 4:30 and found the line stopped–like, totally stopped. Traffic didn’t seem to be piling up too badly behind us. We started moving about 20 minutes later. Then it was easy going. There were storms in the area, so maybe that delayed things. 

Was there any kind of screening before entering the facility? Yes. Before we got to the parking lot, track officials took our temperature using a no-contact thermometer. If your temperature was in the good zone, you received a wrist band. Remember how I said that traffic started moving around 4:50? The photo of the car in front of us getting checked was taken at 5:00. So we were making progress. 

What was parking like? After getting our temperatures taken, things rolled along. Parking was free, and they parked us in the paved lot in front of the track. Parkers spaced the cars a little further apart than usual. We didn’t have a full empty space between each car, but we did have a little more air than usual. 

Then what? We walked to the AdventHealth Injector and got our tickets scanned. They also checked for wrist bands. 

How thick was the crowd heading in? Not thick at all. 

Did the track offer any other safety precautions? Masks were required, and after getting our tickets scanned, we walked past little bottles of hand sanitizer. Take as many as you’d like, they said.

How many did you take? Two. Plus Michele grabbed one. 

Did you really have to wear a mask? Yes. And we did.

I heard that masks that don’t help. Is that true? If you’d like to discuss that, head here

Then what? We headed up into the facility. We had seats all the way in the top section, so we covered a lot of ground. Lots of signs–many held by track personnel–reminded everyone to maintain at least 6 feet of distance. Arrows on the ground separated traffic into lanes. 

Were concessions open? Some were, yes. And the track's website noted that inexpensive, grab-and-go options would be available. 

Did you eat any? Yes. For $5, I got a decent hoagie. We packed our own snacks. 

Did they socially distance you in the bathrooms? Yes. 

Where were your seats? All the way up top in a 400 section, row 30, seats 1 and 2. 

Were there people near you? Not really. Here’s the seating chart for one of the top sections. In our case, we had two people across the aisle and down eight or so rows. Then we had some people up at the top of our section–so 10 rows up. Basically, we could have fit our entire section in a 15-passenger van. Whether or not they took their assigned seats, people kept their distance–at least as far as we could see. 

Where did you get the sweet mask and cap? You can get a cap like this from the GRM store. The mask is from Couch Guitar Straps. It’s made from two layers of canvas-like material. It’s pretty thick. And, again, going in we agreed that if we didn’t feel comfortable, we’d bail and head home. 

Did the pedestrian concourse fill up as the race time got closer? Just before the race was set to the begin, everyone was ordered to leave the grandstands due to approaching thunderstorms and lightning. This meant everyone had to head back to the pedestrian concourse. Since we knew that we’d have some time to kill, we walked around and even headed down a level. It was pretty sparsely populated.

How sparse? We were at Lowe’s earlier in the day. Lowe’s seemed to have a thicker population density–and that’s not a slight on Lowe’s. If you wanted to maintain 25 feet of social distance at Daytona, you could have done so–and not seemed weird about it. 

Before the race, IMSA announced that tickets would be capped at 5000. We didn’t count heads, but picture a couple of thousand people inside an area designed for 101,000.

Did you ever remove your mask? To eat, yeah–and if no one was around, seeing as how we had about 20 feet between us and anyone else. But mostly it remained on. Masks definitely went on if anyone approached. Call it a common courtesy. 

Did everyone else wear their masks? The track workers were masked. Most spectators, too, wore their masks. Near us, at least, some people removed their masks while seated but put them back on if heading to the concourse. 

How was the race? Good, good race. Congratulations to Mazda for a 1-2 finish. When’s the last time you saw Mazda dominate top-level competition like that? Been a while since Corvette has won on American soil, too. The entire race ran without a full-course caution. 

Just 26 cars took the green, where IMSA had 38 at Daytona for the season-opener. IMSA started 47 cars for the 2019 Rolex. ChampCar ran at Daytona on July 5–the day after IMSA–and showed an even hundred entries on its list. So, yeah, not a ton of cars on track for the big July 4 race. Social distancing on track, too, you could say. 

Felt a little weird watching an entire race from the grandstands–no visits to pit road, the media center or any haulers–but we enjoyed two hours and 40 minutes of cars running around. The view from up there is spectacular–you can watch the drivers circle the entire track. 

Were there fireworks? Yes, at the checker, there were fireworks. 

How did track officials prevent a mob rush at the end of the race? The PA announcer asked that people not leave their section until instructed. Please wait for someone holding a green flag, he said. So we waited. After a few minutes, someone holding a green flag signaled that we could leave. And we headed back to the ground level.

Thick crowds? About the same as going up, meaning pretty thin. They had workers asking people to maintain space on the escalators. It wasn’t dramatic and didn’t add time or inconvenience. 

Then what? We got to our car and headed home.

How was traffic leaving? Not bad at all. From getting to the car to leaving the property took maybe 5 minutes. 

Any more big events on your schedule? That’s it for us for the foreseeable future. 

So, looking back, how risky was this outing? We debated going earlier in the day. Was it too risky, especially with Florida’s cases climbing quickly? But we looked at the specifics: We’d be wearing masks in an outdoor setting while away from other people. We’ve been to the track enough to know the lay of the land. 

I think we got closer to more people at Lowe’s earlier in the day. Seriously. Once you take in the scale of the grandstands at Daytona, it’s a lot of real estate for a relatively small crowd. 

I found this Covid-19 risk chart on the internet, so you know it’s official. On a 1-10 scale, it has grocery shopping at a 3. If risk is based on social distance and setting, I think that you can argue that attending the IMSA race at Daytona is about as risky as grocery shopping–maybe a tad less, maybe a tad more. Hard to argue that it's riskier. 

You want to assign a number to the race outing? How about really close to 3–maybe even a tick below. 

Let’s put it this way: I’d do it all over again way before I’d spent two nights in a hotel, a 4 on this scale and, like I said earlier, I’m fairly concerned about Covid. If there’s a 1-10 scale for Covid concern in general, let’s say that I’m in the 9’s. 

But here’s my caveat: Load up the grandstands to capacity–or even close to a quarter of capacity–and then that figure goes up. Remember, we were capped at 5% of capacity, assuming they sold all of the tickets available. 

Are you now going to self-quarantine? To be honest, I’ve already been doing that, more or less. We’re working at home, we’re not eating out, and we go grocery shopping every two to three weeks. I’m doing my guitar lessons via Skype, and I go biking by myself–and if I encounter anyone, I get way out of their way. We’re not going shopping unless necessary. My wife and I have been going to the beach, but it’s one that pretty optimal for social distancing. 

So, until things normalize–whenever that may be–we’ll keep playing it safe and doing what we can to tip the odds in our favor. But on this night, we got to enjoy some racing. 

Be safe, everyone, and wash yo hands. 

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aircooled MegaDork
7/5/20 3:00 p.m.

So you went there entirely as a "civilian".  No press privileges?

I have to wonder how big a financial hit they took putting this on.  What is normal attendance?

einy (Forum Supporter)
einy (Forum Supporter) Dork
7/5/20 3:21 p.m.

Thanks for chronicling all of the details, David.  We have tickets for the 2021 Daytona 500, bought well before Covid19 was even a thing, and I really wonder if/how that is all going to come together.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/5/20 3:25 p.m.

Yup, no press pass. Steven Cole Smith had a press pass and was in the tower. 

eastpark Reader
7/5/20 3:26 p.m.

Terrific article David. We share the same perspective on dealing with this virus and if I had the chance I would have loved to attend, sadly we still have a closed border in between. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/5/20 3:36 p.m.

In reply to eastpark :

Thank you. I have a doctor appointment for tomorrow and see that the waiting room is rated at a 4 on that risk scale. I can see that: a closed, confined room with the a/c going. Hopefully I can wait outside or in the car if it's busy. I did telemed for an earlier appointment with my primary, but this one needs to be in person. 

eastpark Reader
7/5/20 3:44 p.m.

That's the way all of our medical and vet appointments have been: get to their parking lot, call them and wait 'till it's your turn. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/5/20 3:46 p.m.

In reply to eastpark :

Yeah, I have done a few like that as well. This will be my first visit with this doctor since last year, so we'll see how it goes. 

Good article-thanks.

Enjoyed the extra effort you took to cover the event as a spectator.  Like the saying goes. pictures are worth 1000 words.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
7/5/20 4:39 p.m.

Very cool look into what motorsports is like as a spectator these days. It is crazy to look back at January and compare just how different it was for the 24. IMSA is doing a great job creating a safe environment to keep the risk low for everybody attending. 

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