US stock car racing series Nascar made a successful return to live racing at an empty Darlington Raceway in South Carolina over the weekend following a 10-week hiatus.
Kevin Harvick won The Real Heroes 400 as the Nascar Cup Series resumed its 2020 season following an enforced break caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t think it was going to be that much different and then we won the race and it is dead silent out here, so we miss the fans,” said the Stewart-Haas driver after celebrating his victory with no spectators to cheer for him.
He added: “Usually you get out of the car, and the crowd is screaming and yelling and react to your emotions, and today I get out of the car, and well, I really don’t know what to do here.”
Nascar has scheduled seven races over 11 days in North and South Carolina this month, with more races planned until the end of June. None will have spectators.
Nascar executives were delighted with the return to live action, which included a series of health and safety measures that were all willingly adopted by participants.
Steve O’Donnell, Nascar’s executive vice president, said: “We didn’t have to tell anyone or remind anyone to wear a mask. It felt a little odd with the garage area because it was scaled down in terms of personnel, but all in all I think it went really well.”
Nascar has followed Professional Bull Riders and the Ultimate Fighting Championship in making a live competition return from the ongoing health crisis. Its comeback sets another marker for the wider resumption of live sports in North America in the coming weeks and months.
“All other sports are watching Nascar,” Fox Sports reporter Regan Smith told the Associated Press. “They’ve all been in contact with Nascar to see how they’re making it work.”
Notably, many fans flocked to Darlington Raceway just to listen to the race from outside of the facility. “We wanted to be able to hear it, smell it,” one Nascar fan told the Greenville News.
The Cup Series returns to Darlington on May 20.