By Allie Ouendag
After two months and eight postponed events due to the COVID-19 outbreak, NASCAR will return to the historic Darlington Raceway in South Carolina May 17 to begin the first of a 20 race series. The series will stretch across seven southern states including fan favorite venues such as Martinsville and Talladega until late June.
Social distancing protocols are being closely monitored at the raceway in preparation for the first event, “The Real Heroes 400,” a race recognizing the healthcare workers currently battling the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthcare workers will virtually give the traditional command to “start your engines,” as well as have their names written above the driver side door of each car.
”These heroes will signal that NASCAR has returned, bringing back the intense competition and side-by-side racing we’ve all missed,” Steve Phelps, NASCAR President, stated in a letter to fans.
The 47,000 seat raceway will be empty of fans allowing only 900 essential workers to have access to the venue. There is a limit of 16 employees including drivers and owners per car in attendance at the race. All participants will be required to wear masks as well as receive temperature checks when entering the event and periodically throughout the day; however, there will be no COVID-19 screenings. Ryan Newman, a driver for Roush Fenway Racing, notes that the atmosphere may not feel as different considering the attention to detail it takes while racing.
“When you’re running 200 miles an hour, you can’t look in the stands anyway,” Newman told FOX Sports. “I am aware of the current situation and I feel bad for the fans that they can’t be there… I wish that they were there.”
In addition to NASCAR, professional golf will be returning with the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins match. This event will consist of Rory Mcllory and Dustin Johnson going against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
Originally the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park was scheduled for May 17, but was postponed due to COVID-19. The TaylorMade Relief match replaced the championship and is supported by the UnitedHealth Group, which pledged to donate $3 million to both the CDC Foundation as well as the American Nurses Foundation. Farmers Insurance has also given a $1 million donation for a “birdies and eagle” pool.
“It’s been difficult to witness what so many are enduring over the last several weeks, stated McIlory. “I hope we can provide some respite and entertainment for those tuning in across the globe.”
Similar to “The Real Heroes 400” event, spectators will not be allowed on the course, instead the golfers will be filmed by a small camera crew and their health will be continually monitored by temperature checks.
In addition to the charity event, it has been announced that the normal PGA Tour will return on June 11 for the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. The first four events on the tour will not have spectators and whether or not future events will allow them will be decided by local and national authorities.
Locally, the annual Meijer LPGA Classic at Blythefield Country Club has also been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Typically played on Father’s Day weekend, the event has been pushed to the weekend of Oct. 1. Last year the tournament raised $1.1 million through Simply Give that was distributed to local food pantries.