Coronavirus upends the automotive, racing worlds

We’ll get through this. That’s perhaps the most optimistic truth that can be offered in this highly uncertain, not a little scary episode in history that we’re living through. The consequences, even if only restricted to business activities, are mounting. But the news isn’t all horrific. America’s Big Three of auto production – General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – have all announced production shutdowns with an eye on keeping their workforces free of coronavirus infection, and are now contemplating a shift to producing medical goods, a proposal that hearkens back to the 1940s, when Detroit became the great arsenal of democracy during World War II. That was a landmark mobilization of industrial might that stood alone in history until this week. Nissan quickly followed suit, disclosing its plan to temporarily suspend North American production. Ford quickly followed by suspending all assembly work in Europe, as well.

Which brings us to racing. Put plainly, we’re going to have to put it aside, at least for a while. The famed Sprint car tracks in central Pennsylvania ran last weekend, after the World of Outlaws interrupted their schedule in Texas, but the three biggies – Williams Grove, Lincoln and Port Royal – all stated plans to close for this coming weekend, despite assurances by Gov. Tom Wolf that he wouldn’t stop the events. NASCAR, which is now restricted to i-racing, determinedly announced intentions to complete its full 36-race schedule in 2020 after postponing all events through May 3rd. Formula 1 has interrupted its global scheduled through at least early May, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been pushed back from its traditional June date all the way to September. That leaves the Indianapolis 500, which we fondly salute by presenting this IMS photo of Arie Luyendyk, who shattered the track record in 1996 by turning a four-lap average of 236.986 MPH. We reckon that mark is safe for this year, but predicting more than that is risky right now. It’s an enormous undertaking to present the Indianapolis 500, and while we hope it comes off as scheduled on Memorial Day, the virus means all bets are off. The biggest asset the speedway can claim in this crisis is its ownership by Roger Penske, who fully understands the race, the place and all the tradition and respect that both command. Right now, let’s just be glad that his name’s on the deed at this challenging time.

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