By Len Hayward
Corpus Christi Caller Times
CORPUS CHRISTI -- Eddie Gossage has done just about everything in auto racing.
He’s handled public relations, promoted races and race tracks, and even sold a few hot dogs, but what will happen this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway was something new for the veteran motorsports executive.
The 1.5-mile superspeedway located on the far north side of Fort Worth will play host to all three of NASCAR’s top racing series.
It will be the first major professional sporting event in Texas, and one of the first in the country for that matter, with fans since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March. The track’s annual spring weekend date was postponed until Sunday as NASCAR adjusted to the pandemic and state regulations.
The track will open its gates to fans, marking the second time in a week NASCAR’s top series will play in front of fans after weeks of competing at empty speedways. Bristol Motor Speedway had about 20,000 fans in the stands Wednesday for the All-Star Race.
Plus, the events could be watched by a number of other sporting entities that are curious about how things develop.
"It’s frustrating to not be able to anticipate what’s happening next," Gossage said on Wednesday. "There was a period of time back in March where you get up in the morning and everything changed 10 times yesterday and you are sure it will be a better day today, and it changed 20 times today. I’m a planner and a detail guy and that was just maddening to me."
The only event of the three contested this weekend that will have fans will be Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series event. Fans will only be allowed into the grandstand area and will not interact with drivers or teams.
Other protocols the track set up were digital tickets, masks required for everyone older than 10, clear bags so security personnel can see in them and souvenir and concession stands will accept credit cards only.
Also, seats were spaced out throughout the grandstand to maintain social distance among groups.
Gossage said two of the track’s campgrounds will be open Saturday for Sunday’s race. Typically the track’s campground is open more than a week before an event.
The track’s plan to return was something new for everyone involved because most major sports leagues are either shut down or preparing to reopen without fans.
Gossage said when the race was re-scheduled by NASCAR, they submitted a proposal to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office about hosting fans. The proposal, which was done in conjunction with multiple health officials, was approved and plans began in early June.
"The state wanted a written plan and had their health department review it and the governor’s office review it," Gossage said. "It’s a thoroughly comprehensive and vetted plan."
The number of cases of coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, continues to grow in the state. There were 64,908 confirmed cases for the seven days ending July 15 compared to 52,561 the seven days prior.
On June 26, Abbott reinstituted restrictions to bars, rafting and tubing services and gatherings of more than 100 people.
Gossage said Wednesday the state allows professional sporting events to hold up to 50 percent of a facility’s capacity. Texas Motor Speedway has 135,000 seats but Gossage said it is unlikely the crowd would reach the 67,500 capacity.
The summer heat could play a role in keeping fans away. Gossage added that many fans took advantage of a ticket option to receive 125 percent credit for a future ticket if they had purchased tickets for the spring event and did not attend.
As COVID-19 cases increase in parts of Texas, Gossage said the facility is large enough to help fans distance and follow the protocols set up.
"The answer is the same whether you are going to the grocery store or to the gas station or any other place," Gossage said. "We are certainly large enough to absorb this easily … our front stretch is two-thirds of a mile long. We will have a small number of people in attendance and you will probably think nobody is there.
"If they will follow their plan, wear their masks, maintain social distancing, hand sanitize and they’ll do all those (things) we’ve asked them to do, we’ll be just fine."
Contributing: Heather Tucker, USA TODAY