KEN WILLIS: Baby steps for NASCAR and others as COVID vaccine rollout widens

Ken Willis
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Yes, it’s complicated in various ways, but good Lord, if you want more vaccinations, inject some more incentive. At least a dose or two.

News this past week from two sporting camps — Darlington Raceway and the Daytona Tortugas — illustrates our low level of incentivizing.

The Smart People Who Fight Infectious Diseases insist, yes, the vaccines will work. Go get ’em. But don’t lose that mask, be careful with whom you gather, and keep that Purell in your center console.

But, you may ask, if all of the above drastically cuts your chances of infection, and if they continue to be encouraged and/or mandated, won't that discourage fence-sitters from vaccinating?

If the goal is a 100% rate of non-infection, forever and ever, of this and every other imaginable virus, we should’ve all received our first mask as we were plucked from the womb and had our cords cut. We’ll never “get there,” wherever there is.

Whew, I feel better. But right about here, it’s time for a however.

Remember scenes like this at Daytona? How long before they return?

Is there a way to bump the vaccine numbers?

However, the CDC folks remind us that it’s possible — very slight, they say, but possible — for a vaccinated person to still stagger upon the virus and pass it to others, even if their own vaccination shields them from personal harm. For that reason, continue being careful.

Until … when? Nobody knows, of course, hence the mix of frustration and anger out there.

Right now in America, we’re at about 25% of people fully vaccinated. My guess is, we might unfortunately top out at 50%, well below the 75-85% experts say is the magic herd-immunity number. Once a vaccine via nasal spray or capsule clears all hurdles, you bring in a bunch of the anti-needle people and bump that overall number a bit.

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But how to get those numbers soaring?  

Not like this, from the Sports Business Journal: “After weeks of pressure from teams and sponsors, NASCAR is working on opening its infield back up to VIPs and guests, starting next month at Darlington …” Those guests — sponsor reps, such as CEOs, VIPs, etc. — must show proof of vaccination. 

Fair enough. So far, so good, but then came the details.

No tag-alongs. No wife and kids, but also no wined-and-dined clients, who are a big motivating force in Acme Widgets’ original desire to drop big money on a team. Pictures of Joe or Jane Exec alongside the Acme Chevrolet on the starting grid? Nope. A visit to the team hauler, maybe a little meet-n-greet with the driver or crew chief of the Acme Chevy? Nope.

That's incentive? A tad, certainly better than the current protocol. NASCAR realizes it’s a slow-rolling relaxation, and assuming everything goes well, there will be more and more loosening.

That will be very good news because you can’t overestimate the importance of corporate spending inside that garage area, and access is a big part of the package. A very big part.

Hopefully by the time NASCAR returns to Darlington around Labor Day, there’ll be a group hug or two.

Maybe Daytona International Speedway can help?

Meanwhile, to help the vaccination cause, maybe Speedway execs at Daytona (and Darlington, for that matter) should consider what Roger Penske did this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which became a high-profile vaccination site.

It wasn’t your typical drive-thru vaccine event — you drove into the guts of the famous paddock and received your shot alongside the garages, behind pit lane.

For some Hoosiers, you only top that opportunity with a vaccine pass-thru in Larry Bird’s driveway.

In some cases, that type of incentive can make the difference between yes and no to the vaccine. Imagine doing that in the Daytona garage’s inspection bay — or why not Pit Road or Victory Lane?. Surely, you’d raise the numbers among some of those currently teetering.

No word from NASCAR/Speedway yet on whether they're open to such a thing. But since the Speedway housed a testing site last spring, why not consider the next and needed step?

The Daytona Tortugas are making attendance plans

Across town at City Island, the Daytona Tortugas are thinking they’ll be able to host roughly 25% capacity (1,100, give or take) when their baseball season starts in early May.

That’s an assumption, because outside entities (city, county, even Major League Baseball) will likely be involved in the final number. 

You're not likely to see a packed house at Jackie Robinson Ballpark during the 2021 baseball season.

It’s only an issue for two or three teams in the Florida State League, where game-day attendance rarely exceeds three figures.

The Tortugas are one of those teams that draws fans, so there will be some finessing by those who are truly concerned about further viral spread, as well as those who desire inoculation from the Boys in Legal. 

Ken Willis at ken.willis@news-jrnl.com