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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On Texas, Verstappen and blocking

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Two dynamic races – the hectic start to last week’s Belgian Grand Prix and the crazy finish to the Firestone 600 at Texas – highlight Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry. We’ve been chronicling these posts throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

In his latest conversation with Jan Tegler, Johansson looks back at Spa and the latest drive from Max Verstappen, as well as a look back to the Texas IndyCar race, which featured a crazy margin of victory of 0.008 of a second between Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe.

On Verstappen, Johansson said, “Really, the main thing to talk about from Spa is the Verstappen controversy again, and the various incidents that unfolded at the beginning of the race. I have to say, I thought it was a bit rich for Verstappen to blame the Ferrari guys for ruining his race.

“He blew it at the start effectively, he got passed by the two Ferrari’s going into Turn 1 and then tried to recover by a very, very low-percentage move on the inside that had virtually no chance of succeeding.”

Quite a bit more follows, including a segue to a good discussion on blocking.

That dovetailed nicely into a greater topic at large about blocking, a big issue at the moment. Johansson writes: “For me the worst part is the blocking. It’s outrageous that no penalty was handed out this time. At what point do you draw the line? If a driver has to hit the brakes on a straight to avoid contact something is clearly wrong. It’s sad to say and I’ve mentioned it before but this is typical of the new generation of open wheel racers. They think this is completely normal it seems – like it’s ok to completely turn into someone when they’re coming alongside on a straight. The fact that this is their mindset is sad.

“If you have to brake because someone’s blocking you on the straight then something’s fundamentally wrong, especially when they stewards let you get away with it.”

The legendary Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve battle at Dijon 1979 is used as an example of a clean battle where drivers can drive aggressively but fairly. Johansson praises Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso as the best two modern day racers able to race clean and fair up front.

Shifting gears, Johansson weighed in on the dramatic finish from Texas:

“The show at Texas is always good and this years race certainly did not disappoint. There just isn’t any more exciting racing to watch, although it’s nerve wracking to watch.  Those last laps were just awesome and crazy at the same time. I couldn’t think of a better show in any form of racing, period! If there was ever a finish like that in F1 people would go absolutely crazy.

“Can you imagine if you had anyone of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen – the pure, good racers from Formula One out there duking it out with the IndyCar stars. It would be massively popular, incredible.”

We didn’t do a breakout post on it, but Johansson also had a blog post after IndyCar at Mid-Ohio and F1 at the German Grand Prix. It’s a little older but still worth a read.

 

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida