Fans can at­tend Day­tona July 4

IMSA race to take place in front of 5,000 fans, with safety mea­sures

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By God­win Kelly

DAY­TONA BEACH — The Day­tona 240 sports car race will roll in front of as many as 5,000 fans on the Fourth of July at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speedway, after a record-set­ting wave of new coro­n­avirus cases crashed on Florida.

The two-hour, 40-minute In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Sports As­so­ci­a­tion race — of­fi­cially known as the IMSA WeatherTec­h 240 at Day­tona — for the elite 26-car sports car field will take the green flag over Day­tona’s 3.56-mile road course at 6:05 p.m. on In­de­pen­dence Day. It will be tele­vised live by the NBC Sports Net­work.

This will be a race like no other held at Day­tona.

Com­peti­tors, of­fi­cials, race fans and me­dia will be re­quired to have their tem­per­a­ture taken upon en­try, wear face masks and fol­low so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines.

Any­one reg­is­ter­ing an ab­nor­mal tem­per­a­ture will go to an eval­u­a­tion area for fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion.

Charles Ma­tousek, 66, who lives in En­ter­prise, or­dered three grand­stand seats the day after tick­ets went on sale.

He is tak­ing one of his sons and 5-year-old grand­son Loch to the event. He has no fear of catch­ing the coro­n­avirus at the track.

“They are do­ing a good job of spread­ing peo­ple out,” Ma­tousek said. “I’m not wor­ried at all. It should be a lot of fun. The Speedway has it to­gether. They are smart. We won’t be jammed in with other peo­ple. I ex­pect a good fan ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The re­sponse has been pos­i­tive, ac

cord­ing to Speedway pres­i­dent Chip Wile.

“Since we made the an­nounce­ment, we’ve seen a nice, steady flow of tick­ets be­ing sold, which is great,” Wile said. “Ob­vi­ously, we are used to hav­ing a race around the Fourth of July week­end and it is great to con­tinue that tra­di­tion this year.”

Ryan Workowski, 18, and his par­ents Mary and Kevin, who live in Or­mond Beach, bought tick­ets the day the Speedway an­nounced seat­ing avail­abil­ity.

“We heard about it Tues­day and bought them that night,” Ryan Workowski said. “The coro­n­avirus doesn’t scare us at all. My fa­vorite kind of rac­ing is NASCAR, but I’m down to watch any­thing at Day­tona.”

This will be IMSA’s first event since Jan­uary’s sea­son-open­ing Rolex 24 At Day­tona.

The sports car sanc­tion­ing body re­tooled its sched­ule be­cause of the na­tional coro­n­avirus shut­down and added the 240 to jump­start its re­vised slate of races.

IMSA sched­uled this race when it ap­peared Florida was flat­ten­ing the coro­n­avirus curve. COVID-19 cases have surged in re­cent days. Florida’s cases topped more than 5,000 on each of sev­eral days last week.

IMSA com­peti­tors, many from over­seas, have been mak­ing their way to Florida and self-quar­an­tin­ing in an ef­fort to avoid the virus.

“We are not aware of any­one who has tested pos­i­tive [for COVID-19],” IMSA spokesman Nate Seibens said.

It’s been a long, quiet and anx­ious five months of in­ac­tiv­ity for the sport. Com­peti­tors are ready to fire their en­gines at Day­tona.

“It’s re­ally go­ing to be an emo­tional mo­ment,” said IMSA pres­i­dent John Doo­nan.

Wile said the spec­ta­tor count — grand­stands and in­field campers — will max out at 5,000 (Florida res­i­dents only).

Grand­stand seats are $30 for adults. There is no charge for chil­dren 12 and younger. Con­ces­sions will be open but serv­ing lim­ited items. Race fans won’t be al­lowed in the garage.

Each of the 26 cars en­tered are al­lowed a 15-per­son ros­ter. When you in­clude IMSA of­fi­cials, Speedway ser­vic­ing and me­dia, there will be less than 500 work­ers al­lowed in that area on race day in an ef­fort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Ac­cord­ing to the Speedway’s web­site, tick­ets and camp­ing spa­ces are still avail­able.

The Speedway has a long history of rac­ing on or around In­de­pen­dence Day.

From 1959 (when the track opened) un­til 2019 the Speedway hosted a NASCAR Cup Se­ries race on July 4 or Fourth of July week­end. For many of those years, it was paired with a sports car event.

The NASCAR Coke Zero Sugar 400, which had been Day­tona’s mar­quee sum­mer rac­ing event, was moved to Aug. 29 this year.

NASCAR an­nounced that sched­ul­ing change in 2019. The 400 will now be the last race of the Cup Se­ries reg­u­lar sea­son.

This will be the area’s first ma­jor event since Bike Week ended abruptly in March.

“Cer­tainly, we play a big role for the city by host­ing big events,” Wile said. “Host­ing the WeatherTec­h 240 on the Fourth of July is a real bonus for us. We haven’t had IMSA race in the sum­mer in 10 years, so this gives us an op­por­tu­nity to rekin­dle that tra­di­tion at least for one year.”

Doo­nan said com­peti­tors have been set­ting up camp in Florida for weeks in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the July race.

“I know one of our teams, Com­pass360 Rac­ing, which is a Cana­dian team, they rented a shop in Florida, they flew their folks in, they’re rent­ing hous­ing and they will stay here for an ex­tended pe­riod of time for our early events,” Doo­nan said. “We have other par­tic­i­pants quar­an­tined in the Mi­ami area, and we ex­pect to see more ar­rive in the com­ing days.”

The Speedway and IMSA, which both are NASCAR prop­er­ties, can lean on NASCAR proper for deal­ing with the coro­n­avirus.

NASCAR al­lowed 1,000 spec­ta­tors for its race at Mi­ami-Homestead Speedway and 5,000 at­tended the Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way race.

“We have been work­ing hand in hand with our col­leagues at NASCAR and watched their ex­pe­ri­ences at their early events,” Doo­nan said. “We de­vel­oped our own IMSA event op­er­a­tion pro­to­col.”

“NASCAR was the first pro­fes­sional sport to come back and, now, come back with fans,” Wile said. “We will take lessons learned from Homestead and Tal­ladega and de­ploy those pro­to­cols to make sure we keep fans safe and se­cure as they re­turn to our prop­erty. That’s a huge ben­e­fit for us.”

NASCAR was the first ma­jor sports en­tity to open, with the PGA Tour fol­low­ing suit, play­ing with no gal­leries. Along the way, the PGA has seen a hand­ful of COVID-19 cases among its ranks.

Ma­jor League Base­ball will be­gin play in late July. The NFL says its in a fluid sit­u­a­tion. Camp is sched­uled to open July 28, but the league can­celed its Hall of Fame game in Au­gust.

The NHL says it plans to go straight into a 24-team play­off while the NBA will be­gin play on July 31.

Asked if he was ex­cited about watch­ing a race at Day­tona, Ma­tousek quickly re­sponded, “Beyond be­lief.”

“If there’s a place that can safely han­dle fans, it is Day­tona,” he said. “It is wide open and lot of area to work with. We are thrilled to see a race.

“I have watched those IMSA and NASCAR iRac­ing events and NASCAR races on TV, but it’s just not the same as race cars go­ing by you in per­son.”

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