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).

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).