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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 9, 2020
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's media teleconference. We are joined today by NASCAR chief operations and sales officer, Daryl Wolfe, and NASCAR vice president of racing operations, John Bobo.
We'll open it up with a question for Daryl.
Daryl, can you discuss why welcoming guests back to select NASCAR Cup Series events is an important step for the sport.
DARYL WOLFE: I hope everybody is well. Appreciate everybody jumping on the call this afternoon.
Obviously we are making and have made an announcement this afternoon. It's a really important announcement. I think everyone on this call, and certainly the people around the sport, recognize what race fans mean to our sport. I've always said I think we have the best fans in all sports. They're knowledgeable, passionate, loyal. They're the reason we show up and race every week. They're the energy that fuels the sport week in, week out, month by month, for the entire year.
Plain and simple, today's announcement is we want race fans back at our racetracks. Based on all of our interactions we've done so far, consumer research, independent conversations with ticketholders, overwhelmingly our race fans want to come back to the racetracks.
Having said that we also clearly understand that there is an immense responsibility here that comes with this exercise. We want to be very methodical, very measured, and we want to be cautious as we go through this.
The great news for us is when we think about the return to racing initiative that we had earlier this year at Darlington, which led to Charlotte and the races since then through Atlanta this past weekend, between John, who is on the call today, Steve O'Donnell, the entire team that led that initiative, we have some great foundations and some great learnings that we can build off of as we kind of go through this next phase of bringing back the sport, again, very slowly, very cautiously and methodically.
Every step of the way we have been in lockstep with local and state health officials, constant dialogue with public officials on the local, state and federal level, to make sure that we not only take advice from medical experts but they understand what we're trying to accomplish.
That dialogue, like I said earlier, even back to the return to racing initiative, but obviously now as we gradually and slowly bring back some race attendees at our venues, that dialogue has been constant and frequent.
This initial phase, plan, does just that. It's a cautious, conservative approach. We feel confident in our plan. Also it doesn't mean that we won't also have additional learnings and adapt our plan going forward. That's the whole purpose of being very slow, methodical in phasing this in.
As you saw in the announcement, we will have a very small number of attendees, military personnel this weekend down at Homesteadâ€‘Miami Speedway just for the NASCAR Cup Series event. We'll gradually increase that number at Talladega Superspeedway. At Homestead we'll have up to a maximum of a thousand. At Talladega Superspeedway, up to a maximum of 5,000. Every step of the way following expansive protocols that we have created. John can speak to that inâ€‘depth.
Again, we're really confident about the plan that we have and really excited to introduce a very small and limited quantity of fans and attendees back to our racetracks.
THE MODERATOR: John, can you take us through some of the health and safety protocols that we put in place to return fans to our NASCAR Cup Series events.
JOHN BOBO: We are looking at what we did on the event side. When we went into Darlington, we had a plan that medical experts had helped us devise that we thought was thoughtful and addressed the responsibility that it takes to put on an event. We've had a lot of racing opportunities since then. We've gotten to learn from what we've done and take the best of that and then put that into protocols for these limited experiences of bringing small numbers of guests back.
Like on the events side, we're going to have a pretty robust screening of guests when they arrive at track. We're going to have a lot of social distancing. One of the advantages of NASCAR as a sport is many of our venues are massive. It just gives us the opportunity to really socially distance a lot of people.
We're going to have a lot of hand sanitizing, hand washing. One of the things that I'm kind of proud of to see is we're going to have a clean team, a clean team that's at track constantly cleaning everything very visibly for every guest that's there to know we're doing everything we can to keep them safe.
We feel confident in the plan. We look forward to taking the things that we've learned in racing up to date and apply those to these small groups of fans that are returning to see how we can learn to operate in this environment, like everybody is trying to do.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Can you talk about what the challenges were after a hugely successful rollout with the teams and drivers to accommodate this? Does it reflect any on if any of the areas have an upsurge, could this be taken away?
DARYL WOLFE: Again, I'll go back to the advantage we had was we're not starting from the getâ€‘go with this exercise. What John and the team implemented at Darlington and then Charlotte and other races, again, serves as a really good foundation.
What I would say, though, is when you start expanding the procedures and protocols beyond what I'll call just the infield area, I don't mean to minimize that effort, it's a massive amount of work, now you're expanding it to a larger part of the property. You're expanding it to a public area, to the grandstands. Even with limited quantities, the complications get a bit more complex.
The other thing that we had to monitor, you're going to see this as we go through the rest of the year and the coming weeks, this is not like a linear line, right? When we go from Homestead to Talladega, I'm sure there's going to be a question about where do you go from here, just like when we announced the schedule, really we want to focus today's call on these two properties because that's what we want to address.
You start going out in the schedule, Pocono is next. Publicly we said we're not going to have fans in Pocono, in Pennsylvania. It is so dependent on the local communities, advice from medical experts, working directly with governor's offices. Candidly, frankly, in some states there is more flexibility than in other states.
Having said that, we can probably be more aggressive with some of these numbers, but we're choosing not to. We want to start very small, learn and then adapt those, like John mentioned, protocols based on the learnings to the next event.
Q. One of the regulations is that fans must wear face coverings. It's the summer, very hot. Do you have any recommendations for a type of face covering? What are you going to do if people are getting overheated? Any water stands for them?
JOHN BOBO: Absolutely. We will adjust to the heat as needed. I think a mask is a personal decision in a lot of ways in terms of what type of mask works best for you. I think one of the things we've seen since Darlington is we've seen individuals experiment with a lot of different types of masks until they feel they have the best one that helps them work outside.
We find that face screens are great, but they're only great if you're in an airâ€‘conditioned space because they tend to fog up outside rather easily.
We're going to have PPE there for fans if they didn't bring their own. We're going to instruct fans to do it. Then staff is also going to make sure that we do have compliance in that area when needed politely.
I just have to say right here, one of the best things that has really been going on is all the support from the teams. The teams and our vendors, Sunoco, Goodyear, FOX, they've just been phenomenal in helping us get the season started, the way they've complied with everything.
I think they've set a good example for our fans who are going to return to the venues as well about they're wearing their masks, their favorite driver is wearing their mask, and we look forward to seeing them wear their mask as well.
DARYL WOLFE: Really good answer, John. I would amplify, the race day experience is going to change. The world has changed for a lot of reasons. That's the reason we're starting small, being very measured in our approach.
Race fans, we know how much they enjoy the race day experience, we love that they're on track and at track and enjoying the best racing on the planet, but we also recognize the race day experience is going to change.
So whether we supply PPE to guests that come in, have water available to your point, concession stands will be open, adjusting procedures based on what we learn. We're all going into this in a very measured approach, right? The race day experience will be different. It's just different times. Fans will have to adjust to that. We will have to adjust on how we're addressing these issues for fans.
We think we have a very, very good plan in place, very detailed plan. Make no mistakes, I'm sure there will be some key learnings coming out of Homestead that we will reapply and adjust for Talladega.
Q. The Talladega policies, it says no coolers. Have people been allowed to bring coolers? What is it about potential coolers or ice packs or tailgating that makes that something you have to not allow?
DARYL WOLFE: It's a really good question. Let me back up.
Even though we think these are the right protocols today and procedures, these are the protocols and procedures for Homestead and Talladega. We will continue to kind of assess where we are. If we choose to make adjustments, we will.
But specifically to your question about coolers, when you think about gate operations, gate policies, when you have fans coming in, people at the gates, they're typically looking at bags, always looking at bags and coolers. The inspection process, when you have hands going from one piece of personal belonging to the next, to the next, one cooler to the next, to the next, we think right now the proper approach, even though I understand what race fans are used to, but we're all easing into this together, right now we believe this is the best policy for at least our first two events out of the gate.
Q. In terms of Talladega, the 5,000 person limit, how did you come across that number? Was that something that the Alabama governor's office or health and human services department mandated? Was that something that you came up with this?
DARYL WOLFE: It's a good question. Thanks for your question.
The way I'd answer that question it's a combination, right? We've taken a lot of data points, a lot of input. Part of it was, what do we feel like is the right stairâ€‘stepped approach, knowing that we're going to start the number we're going to start at at Homesteadâ€‘Miami Speedway in South Florida, what is the reasonable number to go from from Homestead to Talladega.
Also if you look at percent of capacity, we're in a low singleâ€‘digit percentage on capacity at Homestead based on the thousand attendees. If you kind of stairâ€‘step that to Talladega, it's roughly double that. Still very, very low capacity percentage. You're probably in the mid single digits at Talladega.
The other thing, as I mentioned, was input from local public officials, medical experts, getting a sense from them what they were comfortable with as well.
You kind of mix all that together, assess what the right approach is, and that's the number we landed on that we felt was the right number to kind of, again, go from Homestead to Talladega.
Q. In the return to the sport, the information has been given to the teams, contact tracing, the team members being very responsible keeping track of who they've been in touch with. When you get to a public setting, there's a lot more touch points even before people come to the track. What is the role or responsibility on NASCAR and the track in terms of contact tracing, in following these folks in the two weeks after the race, particularly Talladega? How will NASCAR work with state government agencies to monitor that in case there is an issue?
JOHN BOBO: On the competition side, obviously we work regularly with the drivers and other competitors. We're in a much different relationship with them as the league. In that regard we can have a much more kind of robust contact tracing relationship versus the general public.
Like anything with the general public, I think that then goes to your local, state and health authorities. We're a sports league putting on great events, entertaining millions of people. I think when it does get to people's health like that, there's networks set up for them to work with, which would be the state of Florida and the state of Alabama and the local authorities there.
Q. If you have an issue that contact tracing shows in a particular state, how might that impact things moving forward?
DARYL WOLFE: You bring up a really huge point, which is no guests, no fans will be allowed in the infield or the TV compound. We are going to do everything we can to protect the integrity of that footprint and our competitors.
Our competitors come in from outside the community, but they will be contained in the infield. Then the guests will be on the outside in the grandstands with their community, local community. That's how we plan to kind of hopefully avoid those issues.
Q. Daryl, do you see once fans are allowed back in that NASCAR will have a more firm position or rule in place with the banishment of the Confederate flag?
DARYL WOLFE: I appreciate the question. The sport, just like this country, is concerned about the troubling images and events around the country right now. I can tell you, really proud of the sport and the moment we had on Sunday. I thought this was a really powerful thing that happened. I think most, if not all, would agree with that.
Also really encouraging is really the dialogue and the transparency around people listening and learning and educating themselves on this very complex issue.
What I can tell you is the sport's position on inequalities, social and racial injustices, have not changed. Our commitment to that issue remains firm and unwavering. We want all to feel welcome at our events in the past, currently, and in the future.
Again, really, really proud of the dialogue that's happening between drivers across the sport, really proud of the moment we had on Sunday in Atlanta. Very, very encouraging sign.
Q. After the first NASCAR races, how many positive coronavirus test cases did NASCAR medical encounter?
JOHN BOBO: Thanks for that question.
A lot of that information is confidential, whether we have or we haven't. We get that information from people that we work with. We will take all the responsible steps to make sure that we have advised the people that individual may have been in contact with of what's needed.
I think what's unique about every COVID positive, each presents its own set of unique facts. What our policy is, when those things start to come in, we will work with people and our medical experts to see exactly who needs to be notified, what we need to do responsibly and work with any local officials if we need to.
Q. Daryl, is there any update on whether we'll have any hospitality for at least Talladega, whether it's NASCAR's guests or teams' guests? We know concessions will be open. What about merchandise?
DARYL WOLFE: On the hospitality side, we've been in constant dialogue with our partners. We're working on a plan right now for Talladega. The Talladega plan is a little bit more expansive than the Homestead plan.
I can tell you it's very consistent with how we're approaching the fans: very slow, very measured, very methodical, gradually working our way back in.
We understand, just like our fans want to come back, our partners want to come back. They're just as passionate about this sport as well. They want to be at the racetrack just like we want them to be. But we have to be very, very cautious with that approach as well. Proportionately we're looking at the same phasedâ€‘in approach as we are with the fans.
As far as your question about team partners, we're working with that plan as well. A number of conversations are ongoing. We should have that finalized sometime this week I would say.
Q. John, we've heard about medical experts throughout this exercise. Is NASCAR relying on someone like McKinsey & Company like New York state used as far as setting up guidelines and specific protocols moving forward?
JOHN BOBO: We're not. What we've been doing is we've reached out and have an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist. We've actually talked to several of those.
What we find is we also need our physicians that we've worked with for years through our consulting group that understand racing. We can get the best advice from infectious disease specialists, but also talk to physicians who are actively treating COVID patients and apply it to racing.
A lot of sets of eyeballs, a lot of people weighing in. We try to be thoughtful, listen, put that all together.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Daryl and John. Appreciate your time today. Thank you everyone for calling in.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports