The recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has had a major effect on the entire planet, with many events being postponed or outright canceled. The short track racing world has been no exception to this, with many events altered including Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series East race at Five Flags Speedway.
Five Flags Speedway promoter Tim Bryant joined Friday’s special edition of "The Bullring" to talk about the immediate future of the half-mile in the wake of the outbreak. It was announced Thursday afternoon that Saturday’s ARCA Pensacola 200 would be postponed after a long conversation involving multiple parties.
“We were locked in a room, Bob Sargent with Track Enterprises attended with his right hand man Adam Mackey, Chris Wright from the NASCAR Touring Series, and Ron Drager via telephone with the higher administratives with NASCAR,” said Bryant. “It was really a phone conversation and making sure we did what felt like was the right thing, and then getting the word out to people in an organized fashion and making them understand what the circumstances were.”
While everyone involved felt bad about having to make the decision, Bryant knew it was the best decision to make at the current point in time. Along with a stacked entry list for the ARCA Menards Series East, the Midwest-based Vore’s Compact Touring Series was also on the schedule for this weekend, as well as the local Outlaw and Pure Stock classes.
“We’re just really disappointed for all our race fans that were looking forward to a great Pensacola 200 weekend here. The ARCA Menards Series East entry list was going to be one of the most competitive that’s been seen in a while. We were anticipating a great race.
"I feel especially bad for the Vore’s Compact Touring Series guys. These are weekend warriors that planned for months for a trip to Pensacola to race here, and they were here in strong numbers. Thirty-plus guys were here and most are still in Pensacola, enjoying the area. They weren’t allowed the chance to unload their cars, we feel bad for them. We had a strong number of local division cars in our Outlaw and Pure Stock divisions that were chomping at the bits to go racing.”
Bryant acknowledged that much of the decision-making was reliant on people far more knowledgable of the disease than himself, and trusting the information he was provided to make a decision in the best interest of his fans' safety.
“One of the things that I know is that I know what I don’t know. What I don’t know is the severity of the epidemic, if you would. The coronavirus is certainly serious enough that we’re leaning on people that know way more about the situation than we do,” he said. “Our friends with NASCAR and the ARCA Menards Series played a heavy role in deciding to postpone our event here. One of the things people just don’t really understand the severity of it and hey, if they cancel a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, they feel just as strongly, and it trickles down to us as well.
"The short track fans are every bit as important as NASCAR Cup fans. If it’s not safe to be in a crowded environment for those folks, we just didn’t feel like it was safe for our people either. We always want to air on the side of caution here and at the end of the day, I feel like we made the best decision that we could given the circumstances we had to deal with.”
Bryant was adamant on the Pensacola 200 being rescheduled for a future date. Track and series officials continue to work for a potential date that will be best for all involved, with a contingency plan in place for fans who cannot make it to the make-up event.
“We’re continuing to work on a reschedule date, we fully intend to have this event. Any fans that have tickets, we’re doing our best to make them aware. And then your platform will help with that, making them aware that we’re going to have this event, so hang on to those tickets. Many of them are still in will call.
"We’ve been in contact with a good share of the fans and most of them are very understanding of the situation. Once we get that date settled, for those fans that absolutely cannot make it back to the Pensacola 200, we’ll offer a full refund. We’ll deal with that once we get that date established for the make-up race and then we’ll go from there.”
While Saturday’s event was postponed, the Southern Super Series-opening Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway is still on as planned for next weekend. The next Five Flags Speedway event is scheduled to take place in two weeks on Friday, March 27 with the Modified of Mayhem Tour headlining the night. The Pro Trucks, Sportsman, and Pure Stocks are also on the docket.
With restrictions currently being placed on large gatherings in the Pensacola area, Bryant and Five Flags Speedway are preparing to run as scheduled.
“We’re going to go to work and prepare for our next scheduled event, which is March 27. That being said, local authorities have mandated that no gatherings larger than 500 people for permit events, but they can’t necessarily mandate what happens on private property. They’re asking all businesses and all organizations that are having events that draw 500 people or more to put them on hold.
"We’re not wanting to break that trend, we support what they’re saying so that’s what we’re doing. That word has also come down from the Governor of Florida, maybe even in a little stronger fashion. In the meantime, we’re going to prepare to race as if we’re going to. We’ll monitor the situation, there’s nothing more important to us than the safety of our fans and competitors, and our employees and officials that work here. We don’t want to put anybody in harm’s way. There’s always another day for a race, people’s safety is way more important to us than that.”
Speed51 will have continued updates as they become available regarding any potential schedule changes as a result of the coronavirus.
Click here to watch a replay of Friday's special edition of "The Bullring."
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51