Texas Motor Speedway officials announced Friday that fans will be able to attend the July 19 NASCAR Cup race there.
Speedway president Eddie Gossage announced the news via both a media release and a YouTube video (see above).
The rescheduled O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 will be the first major sports event in Texas open to fans since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the media release, “The grandstands and suites at No Limits, Texas will be open to race fans subject to social distancing requirements and additional protocols.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued guidelines that currently allow sports venues to hold up to 50% of seating capacity. Texas Motor Speedway’s current capacity is just under 130,000. The track is currently working on how many fans will be allowed into the track under state social distancing and other safety guidelines.
“(There is) no set number but many factors are involved,” a track spokesman told NBC Sports. “Still to be finalized (include) a safe social distancing seating chart for the grandstands, fans who’ve purchased tickets for the March weekend now have to figure out if they can come in July, state guidelines, the Texas heat in July, etc.”
Gossage said all tickets will be mobile tickets. Previously printed tickets for the originally scheduled race weekend back on March 27-29 are ineligible to be used. Fans holding tickets for that event are asked to reach out to the Speedway to have new tickets issued.
“We hope everybody comes to the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on July 19,” Gossage said. “But if they’re not comfortable, we’ll gladly give them a credit, even a refund, to make sure we do right by them. Not a problem at all.”
Also, fans will not be admitted to other events slated for the rescheduled race weekend, namely Xfinity and Truck Series races both scheduled for Saturday, July 18. Each race will be run without practice or qualifying sessions and the starting lineups will be based on a draw system.
The state of Texas reported 3,516 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, exceeding the previous record of new cases set just one day earlier, 3,129 on June 17.
Gossage appeared on a media teleconference Friday afternoon and was asked if the governor’s office has told him that the Speedway may have to reverse course if positive test results continue to climb.
“No sir,” Gossage said. “Obviously, if something happens, we’re going to follow the directions from the state.
Earlier, Gossage said, “Safety remains the primary focus for everyone who takes part in the weekend events, from fans to competitors, officials and track staff, so we continue to work with federal and state officials to comply with both Texas and CDC recommendations and requirements.”
NBC Sports asked Gossage if he has compared notes about hosting fans with entities like the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, who are working on their own social distancing and accommodation plans for fans to attend their games in the near future.
“I’m sure they’re really happy it’s us because I think you always want the other guy to go first and you can learn from them,” Gossage quipped. “No, I haven’t heard from them or talked to them. The big thing is we’re outdoors. The Cowboys play basically indoors … they go basically playing the whole season without ever opening the roof.
“We’re just a completely different animal because we’re completely outdoors.”
Also, per the track release:
“Fans will be allowed to bring food and unopened beverages in a soft-sided clear bag no larger than 14x14x14 inches. Standard coolers will be prohibited to limit interpersonal contact at security checkpoints. Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR will continue to adapt and improve procedures to ensure they are effective and can be scaled to support increasing the number of fans in the future.”