Super Sebring weekend begins on Friday with 1000-mile race

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Two months after racing twice around the clock in Daytona, the IMSA Weathertech Series heads to Sebring, Fla. for a single trip around the dial. Apparently, that just isn’t enough for some drivers or fans.

On Friday, the World Endurance Championship hosts the 1,000 Miles of Sebring as a prelude to the 12-Hour race. The World Endurance Championship schedule this year includes the 24-Hour of LeMans and 6-hour races at Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai.

One of the winners of the 24 Hours of Daytona likely has an opportunity to win his second consecutive race. Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande are all entered in three different cars.

In the No. 8 Gazoo Racing entry, Alonso claimed the pole for Friday’s race with the fastest ever lap around this track of 1 minute, 40.124 second. Kobayashi, along with Mike Conway will sit on the outside of the front row. Van der Zande’s team, the No. 10 DragonSpeed entry, qualified seventh in the 34-car lineup.

Matthieu Vaxiviere, who joins van der Zande and Jordan Taylor this week in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac in the 12-Hour race, and the Corvette Racing duo of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia will also be doing double duty.

Along with the stars of the 24-hour race, IndyCar is represented in the 1,000-mile race with Ben Hanley joining van der Zande in that event.

Jordan King, who is entered in this year’s Indy 500, will compete for Jackie Chan DC Racing (yes, that Jackie Chan) in their No. 37 entry. They qualified ninth on the grid, one position behind their teammates in the No. 38 who earned the pole in the LMP2 division with Stephane Richelmi.

Chan is not the only Hollywood star to field an entry in this race. Patrick Dempsey rolls out two cars in the LMGTE Amateur division.

While the 1,000 Miles of Sebring has a couple of IndyCar drivers in the mix, they will be in full force on Saturday in the IMSA race. Simon Pagenaud (No. 6 Team Penske Acura DPI), Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Team Penske Acura DPI), Colton Herta (No. 25 BMW Team RLL that won the Rolex 24 GTLM in January), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT) and Scott Dixon (No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT) are entered.

And of course, Townsend Bell will be doing double duty as week like he did in the 24 – racing and providing color commentary for NBC’s coverage of the 12-Hours of Sebring. After finishing second in the Rolex 24 to a team that will not run the full IMSA season, Bell looks to protect the points lead for the No, 12 AIM Vasser-Sullivan team in the GT Daytona class.

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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