Behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend

SPARTA, KENTUCKY - JULY 09: A general view of the pace car leading the field prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Shady Rays 200 at Kentucky Speedway on July 09, 2020 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story left out Jason Hoffman’s name.

SPARTA, Ky. —ย Take a right off Exit 57 on Interstate-71 and turn right at the bottom of the ramp, you’ll see trees and rolling hills. Peering over those hills is the control tower of Kentucky Speedway.

I drove a mile up Sparta Pike, then turned left onto Jerry Carroll Blvd., onto the track property. Thus began a day at the racetrack with no fans.

As the United States is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed in attendance. Only “essential personnel” were permitted on the premises.

Now allow me to pull back the curtain and take you behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend.

Behind the scenes of a fan-less race weekend

Being among those deemed “essential,” I proceeded to the first security checkpoint to obtain my credentials. After doing so, I sat in my car for roughly 20 minutes, as health screenings were paused, due to a lightning strike.

The queue for the screenings grew, as minutes passed.

Eventually, the medical screenings moved down inside the Turn 3 tunnel. Above the golf cart overpass hung a banner honoring NASCAR Cup Series driver,ย Jimmie Johnson.

When I pulled inside, my temperature was checked. Afterwards, I drove to the end of the tunnel and turned around to drive out of the track. I turned left onto the golf cart path and rove up to the front of Gate 15; the main gate at Kentucky Speedway.

Because it wasn’t a normal race weekend, I got to take my car inside the gate and park underneath the control tower.

The downside of it not being a normal race weekend was that the parking lots in front of the track were barren.

Due to not timing my trip up to Kentucky from Knoxville, Tenn., correctly, I spent the next three hours by my car. Spotter after spotter drove up to Gate 15 and followed suite.

Some spotters took a nap in their car, some pulled out their phones, some conversed with spotters parked next to them and some watched episodes ofย Maid Sama!. OK, that last one was me, but we all found ways to pass the time.

None of this stopped the activity that went on in the infield.

Being the first of two NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Kentucky Speedway, teams wearing sponsor-laden face masks pushed their cars through inspection and onto the grid.

Finally, I was allowed into the press box. It was my first time in a NASCAR press box in over two years.

Eventually, I was joined by Adam Niemeyer of WXIX FOX 19, Chris Knight ofย Catchfence.com (who passed the time watchingย Return of the Jedi), Gary Graves of theย Associated Press and Jason Hoffman of Theย Cincinnati Enquirer.

Finally, it was time to race.

SPARTA, KENTUCKY – JULY 09: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Snap-On Ford, celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Shady Rays 200 at Kentucky Speedway on July 09, 2020 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Austin Cindric beatย Chase Briscoe in an overtime restart to win on an oval for the first time in his career.

Afterwards, we all typed our stories and waited on results of post-race inspection. Finally, it was announced that everyone passed inspection, and we all packed up our things and drove to our hotels for the night.

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I've been a fan of NASCAR since I was five years old. My passion for it, and auto racing in general, inspired me to pursue a career in it. For four years, I covered NASCAR and IndyCar for SpeedwayMedia.com. I'm currently studying at the University of Tennessee to pursue a career in sports writing. As a student at the University of Tennessee, and a native of Knoxville, Tenn., I'm a diehard fan of Tennessee Volunteers football. If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me one day, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Nashville Predators and the NFL. Outside of sports, I watch anime, read manga and watch a lot of films.

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