Rich Schaefer has a plan of how he expects to handle post-Pandemic era drag racing. The most significant issue he faces is when will he get the chance to implement it.
Schaefer, who is NHRA Division 2 Director, is one of two members of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series scheduled to hit the track in three weeks. He will oversee the LODRS event at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.
As of today, the event is still on but remains a very fluid situation.
Still Schaefer must prepare as if the show will go on.
“We’ll park people separately and try to minimize how much hand-to-hand contact we have with stuff,” Schaefer explained. “It seems like we’re within all the regulations of what the authorities want us to do. But I kind of feel like as long as everybody feels safe coming and we got to get to down to business.”
While speculation has been NHRA will limit entries to events to adhere to social distancing regulations, Schaefer doesn’t believe this will be the case for the Commerce event.
I’ve been thinking about whether we restructure the schedule a little bit and spread it out,” Schaefer explained. “Maybe we don’t start all the classes at once, but I don’t know if that really gains me anything. But from a parking standpoint, if we actually had that big of a surplus of racers that come to the Atlanta race because it’s the first thing happening and people are going stir crazy and want to do something. We’re not going to have spectators so we get all that spectator parking real estate we can use if need be also. If we need to spread out even further.”
The Atlanta divisional race, according to Schaefer, isn’t one of the larger events and in the past has attracted an average of 325 entries.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be that type of number, whether it’s going to be down or up quite a bit, but my gut tells me it’s going to be up quite a bit,” Schaefer said. “Because people aren’t out of money at this point. This has been going on for a while, but it hasn’t been going on for half a year yet. So people still have money in their pocket and they’re ready to go out and do something. They just want to get out of the house for God’s sakes.”
Schaefer has been debating the protocols if local ordinances allow the event to happen.
“I may want to change the way we do tech and go to a national event tech, or whether we basically tell the guys, you stand back while my guy techs your car and at the end of it we’ll give you the nod that it’s okay, and you turn in your tech card,” Schaefer said.
“We’ve got to do anything we can to minimize that hand-to-hand interaction just to make people feel more comfortable. My tech cards have been in a box, in a plastic tub for months now with nobody touching them. And from everything I’m looking at, the lifespan of this virus on a porous property I’m not worried about the tech cards having anything on them.
“Soon I want to start reaching out to the VPs and people like that tomorrow, that I see are making the hand sanitizer. See what we can get. We’ll have to change the way we interact with people in the staging lanes, I think more than anything probably and at fuel check.”
Being confined to his home office for a little over 30 days, Schaefer said he’s had plenty of time to ponder his future actions.
“It’s kind of one of those things that I stay up in the middle of the night thinking about it,” Schaeffer admitted. “It’s honestly all those good and bad things that kind of happen to you. It’s been kind of hard to sleep anyways. It’s been at least occupying my mind to think about how we’re going to go through these processes of how we protect our racers and our staff.
“If I don’t feel like I can protect my staff, It’s not happening. They’re the most important people to me out here. That’s my family, that’s my crew. They expect me to keep them safe. It’s running through my brain nonstop. Today I’m thinking … the national event schedule, what’s that going to do to our Lucas Races later this year?
“It’s one of those things where we’re so consumed with it. If you’re not watching Tiger King, it’s the only thing you can do, is think about what we’re going to do when we get back to work.”
A ray of hope happened for Schaefer last weekend, when 30 minutes north of Commerce, Ga., at a small track in Greer, South Carolina, the straight-line sport returned to action with the blessings of South Carolina government officials.
Greer Dragway opened its gates for a 30-car test and tune session on Saturday, April 18.
“The limited participation was self-imposed,” Greer said. “That’s how we got permission. We got permission from the South Carolina Department of Commerce.”
Greer said the racers followed the rules of social distancing on their own without being told to do so. There was one stipulation state officials required before approving the private test session.
“We had to check everybody’s temperature in order to come in the gate,” Greer explained. That was one of the things that I think let us get approved. And then they sort of spread everybody out, no more than four people per car. And it went pretty good.”
Greer admits he’s had to check for those less than honorable individuals sneaking in his track in trunks, but never had to check one’s body temperature. “
That was a first after all these years,” Greer admitted. “Got in touch with a nurse friend that had one of those that scans. And we borrowed it till ours got here this week. We’ve got one now finally come in. So they just scanned their forehead and away you go.”
Schaefer says because of the size of an NHRA divisional, checking body temperatures isn’t something he and his team see as manageable at this time.
“I think it would be difficult,” Schaefer said. “If the authorities there at Commerce want us to do that, that’s what we’ll do.”
Schaefer said at the end of the day, racers are intelligent and with all that has transpired, expects common sense to be the norm.
“That’s the nice thing about the people we deal with, is that most of our racers are pretty intelligent,” Schaefer explained. “We’ve got to rely on our racers to use some good judgment. If you don’t feel good, don’t come. If you think there’s anything going on, you’ve got to stay away. It wouldn’t surprise me if more of us had this than what we even realize.
“I guess it’s kind of one of those things you just you got to keep telling yourself, ‘If I had a kid, would I allow my kid to be here doing this right now?”
And for Schaefer, that’s where his plan begins and ends.