Located along the backroads of South Carolina is an egg-shaped oval next to a minnow pond. This staple of NASCAR is called Darlington Raceway.
On a typical weekend at the 1.366-mile speedway in the tiny town of Darlington, S.C., South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in silver cars direct long lines of traffic running east and west along Harry Byrd Highway. Fans decked out in driver merchandise traverse the sidewalks along the famous speedway, passing by food/merch vendors, before heading inside the property of the track.
The story of an abnormal NASCAR race
Inside, you’d find RVs, campers and a whole mess of Confederate flags spread out among the campgrounds.
But that’s on a normal race weekend.
Sunday at Darlington was anything but that.
It is EMPTY on the streets outside Darlington. There are more reporters looking for Person on the Street quotes than there are People on the Street to give quotes. pic.twitter.com/vBivDiKTnW
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) May 17, 2020
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, fans weren’t permitted to attend. Roughly 900 people deemed essential were allowed into the track.
According to an Associated Press pool report, people “turned onto a gravel road guarded by four state trooper vehicles and entered a health screening area. NASCAR officials there checked names, administered a temperature check with a device pointed at the forehead and logged the reading on a chart.”
Once inside, drivers were sent to their motorhomes until a few minutes prior to the start of the Real Heroes 400; they weren’t permitted to be in physical contact with anyone else.
Only four beat writers were allowed to report on-site. They had to remain in the press box and couldn’t enter the infield area.
Our press box photo for today's race at Darlington Raceway.
We're social distancing….with masks
(Pssst… I'm at the far end) pic.twitter.com/eGkHQptP66
— Scott Chancey (@scottchancey) May 17, 2020
Drivers reported to pit road in the minutes leading up to the start wearing face masks.
The first bit of semblance of a typical NASCAR weekend started with the pre-race ceremonies, command to start engines and, eventually, the drop of the green flag.
After that, the race started.
Hendrick Motorsports flexed its muscle in the first stage, with all four cars in the top-10 for most of it. Then it came apart, when Jimmie Johnson hit the backstretch wall on the final lap of the stage, while he was leading.
William Byron won the first stage, then a loose wheel put him in the wall.
Kevin Harvick dominated the middle portion of the race, and was eventually pacing the field.
As he ran his race, the metal bleachers of the empty grandstands permeated the camera shot. It served as a constant reminder of the new normal for the world of sports, not just NASCAR.
That didn’t stop some fans from showing up, however. Many gathered for a viewing party at the Raceway Grill, located just past Turn 2.
They, along with the throng of reporters hanging out outside the track, witnessed a race of many comers and goers, which was ultimately won by Harvick. It was his 50th career victory, and broke a tie with Tony Stewart to take 12th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
Now, we load up, head back to Charlotte, N.C., come back down on Wednesday and do it all over again.