If it weren’t so dang hot, Sunday’s Southern Super Series and Pro Late Model doubleheader could have been confused for the first full weekend of December.
Snowball Derby weekend.
Stephen Nasse won the Blizzard Series finale, but Bubba Pollard won the four-race mini-series championship and guaranteed himself a spot in the biggest race of the year regardless of what happens during time trials.
Meanwhile, Connor Okrzesik and Jake Finch delivered a photo finish in the Pro Late Model race, the doubleheader being witnessed by several thousand fans, many who stayed from Saturday night’s rainout, where they expected to see Kyle Busch race against short track racing’s elite.
Many of them plan to come back in just over a month for the week-long Super Bowl of Short Track Racing and Five Flags Speedway general manager Tim Bryant is expecting the Snowball Derby to go off as planned — even as COVID-19 cases surge across the United States.
Escambia County reported 331 additional positive COVID-19 cases last week, while neighboring Santa Rosa County added another 151 cases.
The statistics are according to the Florida Department of Health.
Overall, Escambia County has reported 13,328 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. Santa Rosa County has confirmed a total of 5,876 cases. Escambia County’s death toll currently stands at 269 and Santo Rosa has suffered 86 deaths.
Meanwhile, Florida remains one of the most unregulated states in the country, with sporting events like NASCAR and short track racing allowing for thousands of fans. The IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg hosted just under 20,000 fans on Sunday.
Bryant has maintained constant contact with local officials and will provide additional sanitization spots, while requesting that fans and competitors adhere to physical distancing recommendations. The track is not expected to limit attendance in December.
Over 15,000 fans and competitors routinely attend the 300-lap main event at the end of race week.
“We’ve talked to local officials. Our state officials have pretty much opened the door in Florida,” Bryant told Short Track Scene. “So, what we’re going to do … social distancing in an event like that is going to be tough.
“We’re going to take every precaution that we can in terms of offering folks a clean and sanitized environment. We’re going to recommend folks wear a mask when they are close to each other. We’re going to ask people to take some responsibility and try to do the right things.”
Masks have been largely non-existent this season, and distancing has been minimal, but Bryant believes his visitors are largely trying to mitigate the virus while working or attending the races this summer.
“We sort of polled our fans as we’ve sold tickets, and during the regular season, and our fans have been very cooperative and understanding,” Bryant said. “And our competitors too. We’re not expecting any problems, but if there was a crisis, like a spike in cases, it’s something we’re certanly going to pay attention to.
“We’re not throwing caution to the wind here. Our plans now are to go forward, take some extra steps that we haven’t taken before, and bring as many fans and competitors in there that we can.”
Over 46 percent of Escambia County’s deaths and about 22 percent of Santo Rosa deaths have been either residents or staff of long-term care centers like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Of the 99,821 people who have been tested for COVID-19 in Escambia as of Monday, just over 12 percent have tested positive. Santa Rosa County has tested 40,869 people and 14.2 percent have been positive.