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BMS, NASCAR keeping close eye on coronavirus ahead of race week

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 11, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR and its drivers are monitoring the outbreak of the novel coronavirus with an eye toward prioritizing public safety while still creating the best fan experience possible.

When asked about the virus during a Monday media luncheon in Knoxville, Jerry Caldwell, BMS executive vice president and general manager, referred to a company statement.

“Bristol Motor Speedway is closely monitoring facts and recommendations from public health officials,” the statement read. “The CDC’s current risk assessment says COVID-19 is not currently widespread in the United States and for most people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus is low.

“To prevent the spread of cold, flu or COVID-19, experts are encouraging prevention, not panic, and asking people to practice good hygiene — frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizer and covering sneezes and coughs. We are adding hand-washing stations and will encourage our guests through our many means of communication to use good hygiene while enjoying our events.”

Caldwell then added that the coronavirus situation is like a number of issues with fans: Safety is No. 1, but officials of course want fans have a good time at the speedway.

“We’re always exploring how are we making sure it’s safe for the race fans,” Caldwell said. “It’s certainly something we’ve paid attention to and why we’ve issued our statements. We continue to encourage fans to take care of our hygiene and make sure we’re smart with how we’re handling race weekend, but also have some fun. We can do those together.”

NASCAR issued a statement concerning the coronavirus last week.

“The health and safety of our fans, competitors, employees and everyone associated with IMSA, ARCA and NASCAR remains our top priority,” the statement read. “We are in regular communication with relevant authorities and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Formula One, the world’s most popular motorsports body, announced Saturday the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 22 will be run without any spectators.

Xfinity Series Justin Allgaier saw some of the precautions taken during NASCAR’s West Coast swing covering races at Las Vegas, California and Phoenix. He knows how reliant NASCAR is on the fan experience.

“The series and racetracks have done a great job making sure we have space, more cleaning stations and more access in the bathrooms for cleaning your hands,” Allgaier said. “I feel like as a community, we’re doing a good job trying to prevent the spread.

“Hopefully it doesn’t get to an epidemic like other countries. You hope when we have a race weekend scheduled, it doesn’t affect the fans’ experience. The most important part of our sport is the fan experience. Yes, we want to win races, but it’s about a great time for our fans and their getting the most of the hard-earned money they’re spending.”

He called fan access the great part of the sport and something he doesn’t want to see diminished. Whether a meet-and-greet session or giving an autograph, however, he said he’s taking precautions.

“You obviously have to be somewhat concerned about it,” Allgaier said. “Some drivers have gone from handshakes to fist bumps. For me, I carry a Sharpie with me everywhere I go and I’m constantly using my own.”


More guests have been announced for Hazzard Fest at Volunteer Speedway on May 8-9.

Tom Wopat, who portrayed Luke Duke on the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” will be one of the musical acts. The lineup also includes Darryl Worley, Andy Griggs, Jamie O’Neal and Whey Jennings, grandson of the show’s narrator, Waylon Jennings.

Other cast members scheduled to attend include Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke, and Byron Cherry, a former East Tennessee State football player who played Coy Duke in the fifth season.

Professional wrestling legends including former WWE world champion Sergeant Slaughter, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Rock n’ Roll Express Ricky Morton, “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant and Kelly Kelly. Former professional fighter Eric “Butterbean” Esch is also scheduled to attend.

Concerts, comedy shows, meet-and-greets, car shows and a full night of dirt track racing are scheduled for May 9.

Contact Jeff Birchfield via email at jbirchfield@johnsoncitypress.com.