IndyCar will begin a 6-race exhibition season on iRacing next week

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On the heels of NASCAR and IMSA forming their exhibition events, IndyCar announced its iRacing plans Friday.

The series will stage a six-race schedule that will begin March 28 with “a stellar lineup of current NTT IndyCar Series drivers and possibly some special guests.”

IMSA will play host to a “SuperSaturday” at a virtual Sebring International Raceway that will feature some big names from IndyCar.

Fans will vote on IndyCar social platforms today through March 26 to select the inaugural track for the season.

NASCAR will hold a Sunday exhibition all-star race with active drivers including Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin as well as NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Here is the release from IndyCar:

INDYCAR is going racing again, virtually that is.

INDYCAR and iRacing, the world’s premier motorsports racing simulation, are partnering to currently stage six virtual race events featuring a stellar lineup of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers and possibly some special guests beginning Saturday, March 28.

Each race will be streamed live on indycar.com for the enjoyment of racing fans while the current 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is suspended through April as a result of the coronavirus situation. While indycar.com will serve as the primary live streaming source, there also will be secondary platforms to watch the virtual race events each week – INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook Live as well as iRacing’s Twitch.

Each virtual race event, which will last approximately 90 minutes to two hours, will begin at 4 p.m. ET each Saturday through May 2.

To enhance the fan experience, INDYCAR will conduct a 15-minute, pre-race virtual autograph session with several of the participants beginning at 3:15 p.m. each week. There also will be a live interview with the race winner by post-race host Katie Hargitt on INDYCAR’s Instagram immediately following the conclusion of the race.

The inaugural INDYCAR iRacing Challenge race venue will be selected through bracket voting by fans today through Thursday. Fans can vote daily on the track matchup in the bracket to determine which venue will advance to the next round. The voting, which has a 12-hour window beginning 10 a.m. daily after today, is available through the @INDYCAR Instagram and Twitter handles or online at indycar.com/iracing.

The opening virtual race event will be followed by Barber Motorsports Park (April 4), “Driver’s Choice” track (April 11), “Random Draw” track (April 18), Circuit of The Americas (April 25) and a non-INDYCAR “Dream” track (May 2).

The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge events will feature qualifications in addition to the races. Teams will be able to design car liveries to match their desired paint schemes. To further give the action an authentic look and feel, each car will be equipped with INDYCAR’s new Aeroscreen, a revolutionary cockpit-protecting device introduced for the 2020 season.

The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where INDYCAR will make a donation to one of its partner charities.

An entry list of the drivers participating, along with the bracket-winning race venue for the opener, will be announced next week.

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