World of Outlaws full-crowd events will have high-tech health screening, rapid COVID-19 testing on site

World of Outlaws

After becoming the first national motorsports series to race again during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the World of Outlaws will become the first to race with full grandstands.

And in holding a July 2-4 holiday extravaganza at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wisconsin, the Outlaws will roll out a sophisticated health screening system relying on biometrics, algorithms and rapid COVID-19 testing on site to help usher in a crowd expected at more than 20,000 over the three days.

Details of the plan, which was constructed with IMPACT Health, Soter Technologies and NEXT Marketing, were unveiled Friday – and could be the blueprint for future attempts of conducting pro sports events at full capacity during the COVID-19 era.

“It’s definitely ambitious, but we believe we have the team and the process in place to keep everybody as safe as possible – as safe as they’ll be in a sports venue at this time,” World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter told NBC Sports. “Right now, many, many, many people could really enjoy an escape. It’s something that we’re really looking forward to providing to them.

“Being the first to move to a full venue, I believe everybody will be watching us because we want to provide the path for everybody to get closer to normal as possible. So I’m hoping that the things we do at Cedar Lake on Independence Day will be a foundation for what will happen if you want to go to a sporting venue in the future until we figure out how to deal with this pandemic.”

A composite image of the health screening scanners that will be used to admit thousands of fans for the July 2-4 events at Cedar Lake Speedway (World of Outlaws).

Fans will enter the track by passing through contactless scanners that resemble the metal detectors in the TSA Precheck lanes of an airport.

The Cedar Lake event will utilize Yates Enterprise’ temperature check scanners. But at future events, the World of Outlaws plans to use Soter Technologies’ SymptomSense, which uses an advanced biometric walk-through scanner that measures an additional three vital signs — heart rate, oxygen and respiration – to detect possible COVID-19 infections.

Within 3 seconds of a walkthrough, the scanner produces a result. A green light will allow fans to enter. A red light will put fans in testing protocol and a consult with on-site medical professionals.

Fans will be allowed to choose between a free COVID-19 test at an on-site mobile lab that will deliver results in 15 minutes, or they can opt out and receive a complimentary DIRTVision pass to stream the race online at home.

Those who test negative can enter the track. Geisler said fans who test positive will be able to talk with the venerable Dr. Jack Faircloth, a Charlotte-based expert in COVID-19 policy who was instrumental in formulating the Outlaws’ “Return to Racing” standards.

World of Outlaws chief marketing officer Ben Geisler described the high-tech health screening as an unobtrusive and quick experience and said it’ll be similar to what already is offered at shopping malls and drive-through locations across the country.

“We feel we have the ability to provide a best-in-class experience for race fans to attend the event in comfort and confidence and let themselves be entertained,” Geisler told NBC Sports. “At its core, sports are not the most important thing on the planet right now. But from a mental health perspective, we believe the distraction sports provide is an important piece of what’s going on.

“Being ahead of the curve of getting back on track, first with limited crowds and now a full crowd, we’ve done it in a responsible way and with the best science available — certainly with cutting edge technology in this case.”

USA Nationals Saturday

The Outlaws race also will be an important case study for IMPACT Health and NEXT Marketing, which are exploring the possibility of working on other large-scale sports events later this year.

Geisler said the screening procedures could be a path toward reigniting a crucial summer slate that traditionally has included some of the Outlaws’ biggest events, such as the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway.

“I’m not saying we will use this at every event, but I think it’ll be a part of running some big events,” Geisler said. “But everything is different county by county and state by state, and it’ll continue to be a process all year long.”

Since its May 8 return with a sprint car race before empty grandstands at Knoxville Raceway in Iowa, the Outlaws have run nearly 20 events with limited crowds that have ranged from 25 to 50 percent capacity, typically varying by county and state regulations.

Cedar Lake Speedway is about 45 minutes northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in St. Croix County, which has had a low incident rate for COVID-19. The 0.37-mile clay oval has held racing since mid-May.

The dirt track has a capacity of 10,000, and Outlaws officials expect its grandstands to be full July 3-4 for the feature races of the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car and Morton Buildings Late Model series. The two circuits normally race together only at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, North Carolina, at the season-ending World Finals, whose format is the template for this event.

Crowds at Cedar Lake are expected to be double or triple those of the Outlaws’ previous largest attendance during the pandemic. The June 12-13 races at Knoxville drew between 3,000 to 4,000 fans.

Cedar Lake Speedway during a dirt Late Model race (World of Outlaws).

Carter said the series is confident about playing host to a full crowd because of its steady progression from no fans to limited crowds in a “roller-coaster journey” of meeting varying regulations across several regions.

“On a typical year, we operate in 37 states, and it’s difficult enough with just the logistics of being in those localities,” Carter said. “Now you’ve got to deal with differing requirements in each location and differing relationships with the local authorities. So you can make a lot of progress in one place and the next weekend, you’re at a place that you have to backtrack on the way you’ve been operating.”

Carter said the Cedar Lake events also would require virtually flawless execution given the scrutiny of potentially being the largest attended sports events yet during the pandemic.

“It’s a significant amount of pressure, candidly,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is put anybody in a situation where it’s not good for everybody, so there’s pressure here to make certain that we’re doing as much as we possibly can giving the fans the choices they need to enjoy the event.”

The high-profile races, which are being televised on CBS Sports Network (as well as the series’ DIRTVision streaming platform), also are a critical step for the World of Outlaws, which relies heavily on its summer schedule as a cornerstone of revenue for the sanctioning body and its teams.

July and August historically are known as “the months of money” in dirt racing circles, and the purses at Cedar Lake next week will reflect that. The sprint car and late model main events each will pay $20,000 to win (double the normal amount) with a total purse of $274,000 (about $100,000 higher than normal).

Carter said the July 2-4 weekend will be “a very critical gateway” to the rest of the 2020 season.

“July 4 typically marks the middle of our season, and this is really trying to relaunch the core of our season from late summer into the fall, with the season calendar so jumbled at this point,” Carter said. “We’re hoping to kick off the remainder of the season with a bang, and I think we’re going to be able to get that done on Independence Day.”

Brad Sweet takes the checkered flag in a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series race at Cedar Lake Speedway (World of Outlaws).

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”