ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — IndyCar and NASCAR will both race this weekend without spectators, the latest sports series affected by concerns over the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
IndyCar pushed forward with Sunday’s season-opening race after the mayor of St. Petersburg said Thursday fans would not be permitted to attend. Only essential personnel can enter the fenced area surrounding the temporary street course through downtown St. Petersburg.
Competitors will have to answer a questionnaire for health screening before entry. Practice sessions, the driver autograph session and other events Friday were canceled. IndyCar typically draws about 130,000 to a three-day street festival capped by Sunday’s race.
NASCAR said it will run its next two races without fans, starting this weekend in Atlanta and continuing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said the county was under a state of emergency and NASCAR racing would be postponed unless officials chose to run the race without fans.
“These events will be restricted to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events.”
The stock car series had already announced changes designed to give drivers 6-foot buffers during media sessions and move its pre-race competition meeting to an outdoor location.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within a few weeks.
Mark Miles, President and CEO of Penske Entertainment, which owns IndyCar, said rescheduling the race would have been “very difficult. No one knows what the next several weeks or months will look like. They’ve built the track. It’s tough to build it twice.”
Earlier Thursday, McLaren withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix on the eve of the first official Formula One practice sessions after a team member tested positive for the coronavirus. The Haas team, which had four team members test positive, is also out. Six-time champion Lewis Hamilton questioned the wisdom of racing this weekend.
“I am really very, very surprised we’re here … it’s shocking we’re all sitting in this room,” Hamilton said. “It seems that the rest of the world is already reacting a little bit late … yet Formula One continues.”
President Donald Trump earlier this week announced a sweeping travel ban on travel from Europe, prompting the IMSA sports car series to reschedule next weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida until November. Many drivers and team members come from Europe.
The NHRA also postponed a portion of the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.