Special from The Tennessean: Nashville, TN (Monday, July 20, 2020) – NASCAR was the first major sport to return to action on May 17 since the sports world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and racing at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway was the first sport to return to Music City on July 4.

The second race at the fairgrounds was Saturday with the sport still ahead of all others in town, and its drivers take pride in leading the way back.

“Not only are we happy to be bringing sports back, but now is a time for us to grab some fans with nothing else going on,” Franklin’s Jackson Boone said. “It’s good for people to actually see us in action, and that we’re not a bunch of rednecks turning left. We’re out here with strategy and setup and busting our rear ends. We’re here to do business.”

The feature Saturday was the eighth annual Championship Racing Association Masters of the Pros 150, which was won by Matt Craig of Kannapolis, North Carolina, who finished almost half a lap ahead of Bubba Pollard from Senoia, Georgia, in the 32-car field.

Jake Garcia from Monroe, Georgia, was third; Travis Braden from Wheeling, West Virginia, was fourth; and Boone was fifth.

“It’s big for us because NASCAR is the only sport that’s had fans in the stands – look at Bristol (All-Star Race) earlier this week and this race tonight,” Pollard said Saturday. “You kind of get used to the restrictions we now have to follow. I don’t think we’ll ever get back to normal. I think this is going to be the normal for quite some time. You don’t really think about it, and it becomes second nature once you get to working and focused on what you’re doing.”

A total of 14 races have been run in the two events this season at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

The races have been conducted with COVID-19 restrictions in place, which included limiting the crowd to 20% capacity (2,250).

Saturday’s crowd was 2,013 after 1,505 showed up for the first race.

“I know we have some issues with the coronavirus, but I think we can still get out and do things and still move forward,” said driver Michael House from Columbia. “I’m proud to say we have had a part in showing everybody we can still function and still have sporting events.”

Up to 80% compliance

Dr. Michael Caldwell, director of the Metropolitan Public Health Department, has attended both races at the fairgrounds to make sure fans are following the COVID-19 guidelines.

Two members of the health department joined Caldwell on Saturday.

The guidelines include fans wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Caldwell estimated 80% of the fans complied with the guidelines Saturday, which was up from the 55-60% he estimated followed the guidelines for the first race.

New Saturday was track workers carrying signs in the grandstands reminding fans to wear masks.

“Two weeks ago I thought it was a great start,” Caldwell said Saturday. “We reviewed how they did and early this week did a practice enforcement effort on what I wanted to see. One of the suggestions was to go up and down with the sign to remind people in a collegial way that was not confrontational, but got the message out.”

A larger crowd showed up for Saturday's races at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway than for the first race on July 4.

Caldwell said the fairgrounds is being used as a model to pave the way for other sports and events in town to resume.

“What they’re doing here at the raceway is helping us to take these best practices to other events in the community,” Caldwell said.



Dominant victory

It was Craig’s second win of the year and second time for Pollard to finish second behind him. Craig won the CARS Tour Southern National on March 7 in Kenly, North Carolina.


Photos: Tennessean & SPeed51.com