12,000 fans are expected at a NASCAR race in New Hampshire on Sunday. Chris Sununu isn’t worried.

"They've really, really skimmed this thing back."

Cars steer through Turn 1 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon as fans watch from the stands during a NASCAR Cup Series race in 2017.
Cars steer through Turn 1 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon as fans watch from the stands during a NASCAR Cup Series race in 2017. –AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is set to host the largest event in New England since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, as officials plan for an expected 12,000 fans at the Loudon race track for a NASCAR race Sunday.

Gov. Chris Sununu say it should be an “exciting weekend.”

“I’m not worried, but it will be interesting to see what happens,” Sununu told reporters during a press conference Thursday, assuring the public that NASCAR and New Hampshire officials had come together on a “safe solution” to hold the race Sunday in the midst of a pandemic.

The Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, which was postponed two week after the coronavirus shook up NASCAR’s schedule, comes even as other large gatherings continue to be cancelled and professional American sports leagues slowly resume without fans. NASCAR restarted its season in May and began letting limit numbers of fans return in June.

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Two weeks ago, roughly 20,000 fans attended a NASCAR race in Tennessee, the largest sports crowd in the country since March — albeit in socially distanced seats around the grandstand.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a similar plan. After setting a 35 percent capacity limit on the more than 75,000-seat Loudon speedway, Sununu said Thursday that they’re expecting 12,000 people to attend, less than two thirds the maximum they would have allowed.

The scattered crowd is just one of a number of ways the race will look “different,” said the Republican governor.

According to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway website, fans will be required to wear face coverings in “high traffic areas,” including the race track concourse, as well as when entering and exiting the venue. They will, however, be allowed to take off their face coverings at their seats, which will be spaced out among groups.

Traditional overnight camping outside the speedway will be prohibited, as will coolers in the stands. According to the track’s website, fans will be limited to bringing in food and drinks in clear plastic bags no bigger than 14-by-14 inches.

“They’ve really, really skimmed this thing back,” Sununu said.

Fans were also required to buy tickets on their phone to enable a contact-less scanning process at the speedway. All fans will also have to go through a temperature check upon arrival. Anyone who purchases a ticket inherently agrees to a legal waiver reminding them that “COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death” and that many people who are infectious may show no symptoms.”

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“Although preventative measures set forth by the facility are intended to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit,” the waiver says.

Sununu suggested officials would know “pretty quickly” if there was an outbreak, due to the state’s contact tracing program.

According to the governor, ticket sales indicate that “nearly 90 percent” of fans were coming from within New England, meaning the “vast majority” of attendees would not be subject to New Hampshire’s two-week quarantine advisory for out-of-state visitors.

For race workers and drivers, Sununu said the state had established modified quarantine requirement limiting them to travel between the speedway and their hotel. Teams that violate the rules will be hit with fines by NASCAR, according to the governor.

“They don’t go out to dinner. They don’t go out and get coffee,” Sununu said, later adding that “they’re quarantined to their jobs.”

Officials also told NASCAR that they would have to adjust their opening and closing ceremonies to allow for social distancing. NASCAR has previously said they won’t be testing employees.

New Hampshire public health officials announced 33 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, bring the state’s total to 6,544. The state has also seen a total of 415 deaths due to the disease

The race in Loudon comes less than seven weeks after Sununu’s emergency stay-at-home order, limiting public gatherings to 10 people, expired. While recent racial justice protests in Boston attracted thousands of demonstrators, Sununu said he believed the race Sunday would be the largest event in New England since the coronavirus hit the region. However, he also stressed that the size of the speedway made the raw number of people less important.

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“You can still bring 12,000 people in and that’s still only 20 percent capacity,” Sununu said, stressing that attendees wear masks.

“Nobody wants to have an event and have an outbreak,” he added. “That would be potentially devastating for them. So they’re going — excuse the pun — the extra mile, right, to make sure they get it right.”


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