Finally! Like golf courses and gyms, motorsports facilities are now “allowed” to open in Washington state. We can get back to doing what we love with our track families and friends.
Unfortunately, the announcement came three days after several organizations had announced “go/no-go” dates for events that were already on the calendar at local tracks. Those events were subsequently cancelled and refunded. So, that presented an opportunity. Tracks are legally allowed to operate with dates available but no customers. For those that have organized a track event, you know that the hard part starts now.
Undaunted, a couple hearty souls that REALLY wanted to get back to the track took on the task of figuring out how to make a sanctioned, last-minute track event happen. This meant working with their local and national club chapters. Arranging for turn workers, safety, medical and insurance for the whole event. Most importantly, creating and documenting a plan for safely conducting a track day in the age of COVID 19. This is uncharted territory but they charged ahead anyway.
After a couple of days of coercing, cajoling and finagling, the organizers got the go-ahead. The event was set up on Motorsportreg.com and advertised through social media and club email. They wrote and distributed updated safety and behavior rules for the event. They held a mandatory, virtual drivers meeting to prevent the need for a largish gathering at the track. All of the virus-specific guidelines were worked through in detail during that meeting and they opened up for Q and A to ensure that everyone knew exactly what to expect during the event. Lets just say that there were a lot of grown men that were excited as a bunch of little girls.
The morning of the event was just like any other, with the exception of traffic. There was none (with the exception of a Minvan and a Prius who still couldn’t figure out how to co-exist on an otherwise empty freeway). Anyway, check-in for the 30 plus participants was uneventful but with the added bonus of trying to understand each other while wearing masks. Cars, trucks and trailers flowed in and set up a couple of slots apart per the guidelines. EZ ups went up and tires/tools came out just like any other event. The one take-away was that masks, exertion and glasses don’t get along. Lots of struggling to keep glasses from fogging up while getting tires mounted and last-minute checks done.
The final announcements and instructions were given over the paddock loud speaker while everyone stayed in their socially-distanced pit locations. Turn workers then proceeded to their corner stations in individual vehicles and the paddock awakened with the long-awaited sound of engines barking to life. Cars hit the track and we all settled into the regular cadence of run groups heading out while others finish their sessions.
Man, it felt good to be at the track thinking about “car stuff”. Everything was feeling pretty normal until the first test of the new rules reared its head. The steering rack on a friend’s race car developed a case of “one-way-itis”. This would normally entail all hands on deck. Two people at a time under the car and two others transferring tools and parts. Another tech not far away offering technical advice and inspecting the parts coming off the car. Now, its one person under the car only. The rest of us are fanned out around the front of the car six feet away from each other trying decipher his account of what he thinks is going on with the rack. When he gets to the point where he’d like someone else to look at what he thinks is the problem, he slides out and another slides in. Rinse and repeat until a plan is formulated. This process takes about three times as long as the “normal” procedure. But, that’s OK. We’re at the track and the problem is being addressed.
On the whole, the event went off as a pretty normal track day (with the exception of the masks). Everyone got a bunch of track time on a beautiful spring day. We got to do what we love if not as closely as we’d like. We’ll take this first event as good benchmark that our hobby can be undertaken safely going forward with some caution and common sense. As more events ramp up in the following weeks, we’ll continue to build on learnings from each event and continue to shape the rules to fit our new reality.
On a personal note, I was there to photograph the event and be available to drive if an owner or team wanted me to do some testing. Unfortunately, I found out after arriving that photographers are considered “non-essential”. I wasn’t allowed to carry out my normal track-side duties. Understandable as the track is desperate to get back to operations with as few variables as possible. Disappointing for me as this is a part of my business as well and I’ve been shut down since March. I didn’t waste the morning though. I grabbed a camera and shot the only available turn complex from a public area that was not in the paddock and not in spectator areas. As I was non-essential, I packed it up before lunch and had a nice conversation with track management on the way out. We’re hopeful that “non-essentials” will be included sooner rather than later.