The National Hot Rod Association is just over four weeks away from restarting racing — with fans in the stands and the pits.
NHRA president Glen Cromwell told NBC Sports on Wednesday that the drag racing circuit plans to resume its season June 5-7 with the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Like most U.S. sports leagues, the NHRA has been suspended since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Gatornationals were set to be run March 12-16 but were postponed due to the shutdown.
“Our goal is to go back racing with fans,” Cromwell told NBC Sports. “We are the most fan-friendly (sport). I think that’s what separates our sport from everybody else, the accessibility and interaction that our sport has. I just don’t see it (racing) happening without fans.
“If there was a model that worked for us and do it without fans, we would, of course, explore it, but right now we’re putting 100 percent of our efforts behind racing with fans, as soon as we can.”
He added that social-distancing measures for the crowds would be implemented.
The NHRA season kicked off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., from Feb. 6-9 and continued with the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Chandler, Ariz., from Feb. 21-23.
Those were the only two events on the 19-event schedule that were completed before the pandemic halted sports in the United States.
The remaining events are scheduled to be run, culminating in the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., from Nov. 12-15. However, the revised schedule has built in two potential makeup dates: Sept. 25-27 for the Gatornationals in case the June 5-7 plan proves unworkable, and Oct. 9-11 for the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals in Houston in case that event can’t be held as planned June 12-14.
“We’re trying to get back to racing ASAP,” Cromwell told NBC Sports. “Our race teams are chomping at the bit to get out there. I talk to them on a daily basis.
“We’re working with state and local officials as well as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to make sure that when we do come back, we want to come back in a very responsible and safe way. We want to make sure our fans, race teams, sponsors, racetracks, employees, everybody is safe before we get back.”
Racing without crowds is not a viable option for the NHRA, according to Cromwell.
“We have to give our fans the ability to touch our sport the way they have,” Cromwell said. “To limit them, to close the pits, that is part of the value and excitement of what makes us different.
“That’s what’s appealing of coming to a Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event: meet the stars, see the crew guys work on the cars. To really take that away, I think, would be a disservice to the fans. It’s important we get them in those locations in a safe manner and take all the health protection we can put out there to make sure they’re safe.
“It’s going to be a phased-in program, a slow process. … We want to make sure fans feel comfortable around other people.”
–Field Level Media