Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, met with the media via video conference following Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway:
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate everybody joining us for our post race media availabilities after the Real Heroes 400. We’ll let Steve O’Donnell sit down and answer your questions.
STEVE O’DONNELL: Hello, everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Why don’t you start us off with some opening remarks about today’s race.
STEVE O’DONNELL: First of all, I think you’ve heard it many times, but sincerely appreciate all the front line workers, especially in this area, allowing us to come back. Kerry Tharp and his team did a great job.
Things actually went smoother than we could have expected, getting all the teams in. Inspection went well. All in all a good day for the sport. Excited to be back. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it on television. Odd not having the fans in the stands, but we know the fans were with us in spirit for sure.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Steve O’Donnell.
How did things go this morning? Was everything as smooth as you anticipated? For Wednesday, anything that you have to tweak, change a little bit, or everything stays as is?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I certainly wouldn’t say it will stay as is because you can always learn. We’ve got a meeting tomorrow to download on everything.
From everyone we talked to in the garage area, the entry process went incredibly well. Everybody was here on time. The cars were out and through inspection. The 18 had an issue. But in terms of everybody getting through inspection, the flow working well, the plan working well.
I think everybody found their groove. Didn’t have to tell anyone or remind anyone to wear a mask. I think the industry really came together and did a tremendous job to enable us to get to the race.
I think it just felt a little odd with the garage area because it was so scaled down in terms of personnel. All in all I thought it went really, really well.
What now? What are the procedures you are asking drivers and crews to do? What action will you take if you find out if any have a fever going forward?
STEVE O’DONNELL: So ‘what now’ is the same that’s been in place prior to us even going back racing. This wasn’t Let’s just show up at Darlington and race once, then we’ll figure out a plan.
The teams are all aware of what they need to do. Most if not all the teams have a road crew that is separate. Talked to Chad Knaus this morning. He has not been in his shop, hadn’t seen the car till they unloaded today.
The drivers will be in the same boat: self‑isolate. Anyone will report any symptoms to us. Through the roster, we’ll be able to track that. Then we’ll also have another go‑round when he come into the track on Wednesday, I’m talking about just Cup, to do this all over again, make sure everybody is racing in a safe environment.
You had everybody fill out forms. You asked if anybody had tested positive for COVID‑19. Can you give us any indication of numbers of people who said they have had the disease?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I’d have to check with John Bobo. Not sure about that. I know our doctor at the check‑in cleared everybody and was 100% confident we were in a good place to go racing.
Any sense of what the vibe was like today? Obviously this is a workday, this wasn’t a usual day. I think you had a video earlier in the day about Jim France getting on the PA system. Talk more about what he said, why he was there. I guess he’s essential as the CEO, but in essence why he was at the track today.
STEVE O’DONNELL: I’ll address the first one head on. He’s our chairman and CEO. He went to the PA outside of the track, was never in the infield, for one sole reason: that was to thank the entire industry for all the work for getting us where we were together. I applaud him for doing that. I think it was a big hit in the industry.
As far as the vibe in the garage area, I think everybody’s spirits were really, really high. They all knew the effort that this took collectively to pull this off. This was not easy. But everybody came together in a real spirit of collaboration.
It was odd with the limited number of people here. When you look up in the stands, you certainly missed the fans, that vibe, the energy. Even the music that was playing in the garage area doesn’t do it justice.
I think the participants were able to create their own positive vibe knowing this was a big day for the sport, knowing it was a day we could showcase the sport to a live television audience and hopefully give some people a little bit of joy to watch them race.
Was not having the fans the oddest part? What was the one moment where you thought to yourself that this was really different and strange?
STEVE O’DONNELL: That’s a good question. I think the first part was just being in the garage after it was open. You look around, when we knew we had the full capacity from a roster standpoint, and how small that looked in terms of the personnel.
Then when you got up to race control, there was probably about an hour or so when everything was done, the cars were ready, just waiting for the drivers to come out. Almost an eerie silence getting ready for the race, built‑up anticipation. I think we all got up to race control about 45 minutes earlier than usual just because we were ready to go.
But I’d say that was the biggest thing, the lack of fans. Also the excitement that we had once the green flag dropped.
You mentioned logistics, the travel crews. Looking ahead to next week in Charlotte, what advantages are there with so many teams being so close? What can you take from Darlington that can help you in Charlotte next week?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yeah, there was a crew from Charlotte that was here observing kind of the entry process, what was in place. We also took them around prior to show them kind of what we’re doing in the garage area so they could have the appropriate signage and flow of traffic set up.
For us, I’d say both these racetracks were equally important in terms of proximity to the shops. Obviously Charlotte is right in the backyard. This enabled us to put a lot of similar protocols in place.
I think Charlotte is going to be ready. We had some of the health officials from Charlotte down here as well observing. We’ll follow up with them certainly post race. All the feedback we received from them here was very positive.
Could you follow up on what other officials. I believe there might be some state officials there as well. How is the breakdown working between NASCAR officials versus state officials at the track?
STEVE O’DONNELL: In terms of from Darlington or Charlotte?
For both I guess. For Darlington first, then for Charlotte next week. Is it South Carolina and North Carolina officials?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yes, there were a minimal amount from South Carolina, and from North Carolina we just had one of the health officials down to make sure they were observing everything that happened today. We gave them the full plan. We want to make sure that we’re in step when we head up to Charlotte, as well.
Small amount of folks just mostly observing, helping us out with some of the protocols. If we can learn and add some things, we certainly want to do that.
There was one point where we heard that you had cautioned spotters about their social distancing, needing more of that. Could you elaborate on what happened there? Any other instances of any problems with social distancing or wearing masks with any team members or anybody in the garage?
STEVE O’DONNELL: There was no one instance that we saw of anyone not wearing a mask. I think there were two spotters standing next to each other out of the group. We asked them to move apart from each other, and they immediately went with that direction.
All in all I think it was a great day with the industry going by all the standards we put in place. Very happy with how they conducted themselves throughout the event.
One race down in Darlington, two to go. There’s potential weather on Tuesday and Wednesday with the tropical storm. Is the plan to try to race this Thursday or Friday or will you go back to Charlotte and reevaluate moving forward?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yeah, I think still too early. We’ve seen what you’ve seen. We’re going to try our best to get both of those in. We would have an extra day or even two on the back end of Darlington to try to get these in. A lot of that will depend on television windows to make sure things are available.
We’ve got some built‑in time. Hopefully we’re able to get both races there.
Not only was NASCAR the focus of the motorsports world today, you had a lot of eyes on you from other sportsfans, also other sports leagues. How much dialogue have you had with anybody from the NBA, Major League Baseball, college sports about how you are the first pioneers to do this, give a little bit of a blueprint on how they may be able to get back?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I think it’s been a lot of different folks within NASCAR. I think some of us have talked to the NBA. Certainly with INDYCAR, World of Outlaws from a racing standpoint. Talked about how we would do things with the PGA TOUR. We’ve had conversations with them. A lot of folks just talking about what the best practices could be.
We’re a little bit unique in how we’re able to go racing in terms of racecars, helmets, a lot of that equipment that’s already in place. So a little bit of an advantage in terms of our athletes as well, all getting them to one race.
I think everybody was really looking forward to seeing how this works. Anything we can share with other leagues, we want to do that. We certainly wanted to get out and try and showcase our sport early.
But it’s in our best interests for all sports to be out there. I think today was a good example of that. I think it was a win for the fans. Kevin Harvick, I thought his remarks were tremendous at the end of the race, spot on, really representative of our entire NASCAR industry.
THE MODERATOR: Steve, thanks for taking the time to join us today. Thanks for all you do.
STEVE O’DONNELL: Thank you, guys, for being patient with us. I know this is a little different. Appreciate you covering the sport and taking the time today. Thanks very much.
— NASCAR —