BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – When the NASCAR All-Star Race came to the World’s Fastest Half-Mile in July – it was the largest sporting event with spectators since the pandemic started.
The Last Great Colosseum’s model of hosting an event amid the pandemic, paved the way for people across the nation to return to sports safely.
It was a big decision to host a major sporting event amid a pandemic. “Being one of the first ones, we took a great deal on responsibility with that,” said General Manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, Jerry Caldwell.
Caldwell said it was a nerve-racking feat, but a well-researched one. He said he and his staff at Bristol Motor Speedway knew in order to make this happen, they had to make big changes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Caldwell sought out the advice of regional health leaders to help develop a plan of action.
“We had no vaccine, we hadn’t developed any element or type of community immunity so the issues were actually a lot different in many ways and a lot more pressing at that time,” said Sullivan Co. Regional Medical Director, Dr. Stephen May.
While there were some concerns, officials with Bristol Motor Speedway were ready to take on the challenge, implementing a number of safety measures. Staff limited the number of people at the All-Star race and took spacing into account when they seated race fans.
Staff also enforced the wearing of masks, encouraged social distancing, and added sanitizing stations throughout the speedway. Tickets and payments throughout the speedway moved to touch-less methods.
“We knew if we put safe and smart procedures in place and encouraged our guests to ad hear to those, that they would for the most part and that’s exactly what happened and that’s one of the reasons we had such a successful event,” said Caldwell.
The event altogether, went off without a hitch, according to local health leaders. “We actually monitored the numbers of the race and we were not able to specifically identify a cluster that was tied to the race, which is actually very good news,” said Dr. Stephen May.
Holding the All-Star race was more than just hosting an event, but a chance to prove to the world, we could return to some sense of normalcy.
“It paved the way for a lot of other venues to open up and say okay, we can do this in a safe, responsible, and smart way,” said Caldwell.
Before spectators returned to sporting events at Rocky Top, The University of Tennessee consulted with Bristol Motor Speedway on its procedures.
Those same protocols put in place by Bristol Motor Speedway for the All-Star Race remain in place this weekend.
Caldwell said he can see some of the protocols in place sticking around long after the pandemic, especially touchless entry and payments.