INDYCAR Photo

IndyCar teams close shops, continue to pay employees during shutdown

Leave a comment

A survey of NTT IndyCar Series teams by NBCSports.com revealed some have closed their shops for at least two weeks, but crewmembers still are being paid during the shutdown.

Meantime, IndyCar officials are working on financial initiatives to help the team during the next two months as the COVID-19 pandemic has left all sports in limbo. Teams have received the first installment of money from its annual Leaders Circle contingency program.

A.J. Foyt Racing was among the first teams to announce they were closing the shop for two weeks earlier this week. Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBCSports.com last Friday that it would investigate a “work from home” policy for its crew.

Dale Coyne Racing team manager Terry Brown confirmed to NBCSports.com as of 5 p.m. Thursday that Coyne decided to keep the shop closed through next week, but all employees are being paid.

“We hope to open back up on March 31, but that all depends on what happens between now and then,” Brown told NBCSports.com.

PANDEMIC IMPACT: How global motorsports is being affected

IndyCar announced earlier this week that it was instituting a voluntary work for home option for its staff. A small group remains at the office.

Bigger teams such as Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport have the resources and backing to make it through this difficult time of uncertainty. But, what about the smaller teams? Those are the teams that have to make the most with the least.

That isn’t their primary concern at the moment. It’s keeping everyone healthy and doing their civic duty to comply with government directives to help stem the rise of the COVID-19 virus.

“We are shut down this week and will anticipate being shut down next week as well and leaving everybody at home,” A.J. Foyt Racing vice president of operations Scott Harner told NBCSports.com. “With the time we have, we were ready to go racing. There were some things we were doing at the shop, but even if we shut down for two weeks, that still leaves us plenty of time to get the things done that we need and get the third car ready for Indy and those things. We are reshuffling things.

“The No. 1 thing is to make sure everybody stays healthy and once we get through this and get on the other side, we will all be ready to race.

“Our team members will be paid regardless of whether we have to shuffle around vacation or whatever that looks like. We’re not going to put guys out of work and not have them be paid. Everybody is still getting paid.”

Harner believes it was absolutely the right thing to do by canceling the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, last week. As each day goes by, the number of cases in the United States is rapidly rising as more are being tested.

Even when crewmembers are called back to work in the uncertain future, Harner believes the engineering staff and others should work from home.

“With everybody being a phone call away, and the engineers all based in Indianapolis, as far as I’m concerned, the engineers can all be at home working,” Harner continued. “If there are projects going on with questions, they can come by. But anybody that we can keep at home, we will keep at home.”

IndyCar teams are hoping to start the season at the 104th Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

“It all comes down to how this curve actually goes,” Harner said. “Nobody knows what it is going to do, how it is going to go.

“Shutting everything down in the interim for the next two to four weeks, that is the smartest thing they can do. Shut everything down. Let’s get through this thing. Then we are out of flu season and the weather gets warmer and that may be when things go in our favor.”

If the pandemic is under control by May, the season could start with the Indy 500 – the biggest race of the season, if not the world. That would set up a very interesting dynamic. Teams will be entering the biggest race of the year with little testing and practice with the new aeroscreen in what could be a condensed schedule.

“In a perfect world, testing would be something they want to do,” Harner said. “But outside of that, however we have to go at it, we are all on this ship together. Whatever IndyCar decides to do, that needs to be the approach everybody has.

“You can make the direct comparisons to NASCAR because they start their season with the Super Bowl, and that is what we would be doing. It would be exciting. Everybody will be excited to get back on the racetrack. I think it would add to the excitement of the Indy 500. That would be our first goal and to have 300,000 people in the stands, that would be incredibly exciting.

“Yes, if this had not happened, we would have four races completed and have pit stops and be better off; but it’s going to be the same for everybody. Nobody will have an edge.”

The season has already had canceled or postponed its first four of 17 races. Last Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the April 19 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach have been canceled. The status of the other two races in Alabama and Texas is unclear.

Barber Motorsports officials refunded money to ticket buyers for its April 5 race earlier this week, based on the promoter’s belief that difficult economic times are ahead for Alabama residents. ZOOM Motorsports, the promoter of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, did not want to withhold refunds during a time when the money might be needed for other purposes.

The AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, was set for April 26. COTA has entered a state of “limited use” and laid off employees.

“IndyCar needs to do whatever we can to make these races happen,” Harner said. “I think we could do both Barber and COTA at a different time in the year if everybody is committed. You just extend the season. Whatever that looks like, weather permitting, we just keep working on it until it is done.

“It’s a wait and see thing at this point.”

Harner works out of Foyt’s shop in Indianapolis. The original shop is located in Waller, Texas. The team works out of both locations.

“Our biggest concern is for the health of our communities and our employees, so we are closing the race shops for the time being,” said Larry Foyt, president of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Inc. “I want to thank our partners and sponsors for their support and understanding during these extraordinary times. Many people will face some difficult challenges in the coming days. A.J. and I wish everyone the best, and we look forward to going racing again when the time is right.”

Team owner Foyt, also remains grounded, and that is difficult for the cantankerous 85-year-old, who is still checking out his ranch on his beloved bulldozer.

Nobody knows how long it will be until life returns to normal.

“There is no starting line and no finish line,” said DCR’s Brown. “We really can’t afford to spread this around the whole crew and the whole sport. That’s why it’s best to shut down for a while.

“It’s a crazy world right now.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
Leave a comment

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.

SEEKING HISTORY: Shayna Texter wants AFT championship

“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