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Dover NASCAR weekend won’t have fans

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Unlike previous years, Dover International Speedway’s grandstands will be free of NASCAR fans next month due to concerns over COVID-19.| PHOTO COURTESY OF NASCAR/ ROB CARR/ GETTY IMAGES

DOVER – When NASCAR returns to Dover next month, the grandstands at the Dover International Speedway will be empty due to lingering concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, officials announced Monday.

The stock car races are set for an unprecedented doubleheader in top-tier Cup Series races over the weekend of Aug. 21-23, after the postponement of Dover’s traditional May weekend. It is believed to be the first time in NASCAR history that one track will host six points-paying events across one weekend of racing.

The most closely watched news about the weekend, however, was whether fans would be allowed to attend. NASCAR has been among the first sports leagues to begin allowing fans to return to racetracks in states where they are allowed, including Alabama, Texas and Virginia. Tens of thousands of fans have attended races in masks, spread out amid large grandstands and with heightened safety precautions. That led some to hold out hope that Dover could be added to those tracks allowing fans.

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports Inc., the owner of the Monster Mile racetrack, said that his company submitted a 40-page plan to the state on how to keep fans, teams, and employees safe. Among those recommendations were mandatory mask wearing, social distancing in seating, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, elimination of all extracurricular activities and prohibition of entrance to the infield for anyone other than racing teams, he said.

“The only thing that would have taken place were the races themselves,” McGlynn said.

Ultimately, with Delaware dealing with a resurgence of cases and news of other leagues like Major League Baseball struggling to contain the virus, state health officials pulled the plug on fan attendance at Dover.

“I was always hopeful, but the resurgence of the virus in Delaware and the surrounding region, where largely most of our fans come, started to give me pause that maybe it wasn’t going to be as easy to accomplish as we originally had hoped and expected,” McGlynn said, adding that he trusted the judgment of health officials. “I don’t want to put people in jeopardy, fans or employees. So, it is what it is and we’re not the only industry that’s hurting.”

The loss of fans at the race weekend will mean millions in lost admission revenue and economic impact for the state. Last year, Dover Motorsports reported that the races brought in about $4.9 million at the gate. Ticketholders can get a refund or put their value toward 2021 tickets with a 20% bonus, according to officials.

McGlynn declined to comment on what the expected financial loss may be for the decision to not allow fans, saying it would be included in the publicly traded company’s next quarterly report.

What was more important for the track owner was that the races were run at all, due to the lucrative TV broadcast rights. Last year those rights brought in $34.2 million and Dover Motorsports is scheduled for a 4% increase in broadcast rights fees on NBC Sports and Fox Sports 1 this year.

The lack of fans is just the latest economic blow for Kent County, which has also seen the 2020 Firefly Music Festival cancel its annual June weekend. Other regional draws, including the Delaware State Fair and youth sports tournaments at the DE Turf complex, have gotten underway, albeit with smaller crowds than were expected for NASCAR.

“We understand [the reasoning for the no-fan decision], but we’re obviously disappointed. We feel for the team at Dover International Speedway because they’re great partners for our county,” said Pete Bradley, director of Kent County Tourism.

With the county’s two marquee events not drawing any visitors to Delaware, Bradley said his office was retooling its approach to the rest of 2020 by highlighting Kent County’s outdoor amenities.

“My wife and I just went down to Bombay Hook to do some hiking and afterward we got crabs. It was a great afternoon,” he said. “We’ll be looking at promoting some trips like that.”

By Jacob Owens

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