Motorcycle Drag Racing and COVID-19

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Motorcycle Drag Racing and COVID-19

Story and photos by Tom McCarthy

On the 12th of March, in the year 2020, the entire drag racing world was rocked when the largest sanctioning body. The National Hot Rod Association announced that the prestigious Amalie Motor Oil Gator Nationals was postponing a portion of the race, the professional element of competition, to a date to be determined at another time. The NHRA, after consultation with state and federal authorities, agreed it was in everyone’s best interests to defer professional competition and with it high fan attendance, to another point in time, due to the blossoming outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

When this happened, this was the first major disruption to the 2020 motorcycle drag racing season as the NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle season was set to begin qualifying the following day. Dozens of NHRA PSM teams were already in attendance at the Gainesville Raceway facility set up and ready to race. Then on Friday, instead of qualifying, they were breaking down, packing up their rigs and returning to their shops. Everyone was stunned by this.

At the conclusion of the 2019 Gator Nationals, Beau Layne ran away from Bobby Malloy for the win in Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley competition.





It was a surreal experience for all the professional teams and thousands of disappointed fans too, but the NHRA’s announcement was in everyone’s best interests as the global pandemic of the virus COVID-19 was raging and the people of the USA were finally becoming painfully aware that this was and is a global problem we all have to deal with together. The consequences of not dealing with this now is far too great.

No one packs a drag race like the NHRA Mello Yello events. This photo was from Saturday morning at the New England Nationals, held in July of 2018, at New England Dragway, in Epping, NH.

Consider the dire problem that struck Italy. On January 31 there were 76 known reported cases. As of March 17 Italy reported 31,506 confirmed cases, 2,503 deaths, and 2,941 recoveries. As of the time of this news story, the country of Italy has reportedly 26,062 active cases they are dealing with.

The COVID-19 virus is highly contagious and can live outside the carrier for up to 72 hours on common surfaces. Unlike many other viral strains, this particular virus is not a fragile pathogen that can only be transmitted through a narrow set of circumstances. It is known to be both airborne and surface contact transmittable. So any concentration of people that creates a high-density population in close contact with one another becomes a potential breeding ground for transmission.

As of March 2020, to prevent this, federal, state and local authorities are now enacting bans on gatherings of people in close proximity to one another, not only in public but in the workplace. As a result of this, the racing world is forced to comply with restrictions imposed upon it by legal authorities. International travel is now also restricted and on Wednesday, March 18 when this was written, the USA and Canada agreed to secure their common border by restricting cross border traffic to essential travel only as in commerce necessary by both countries. Travel for sports and recreation is not essential.

Jean Gosselin of Canada on his winning machine “The Canadian Express” could not cross the border today to compete, even if there was a race. He is of course looking ahead to better days.

The Man Cup 2x Pro Open champion, Jean Gosselin of Quebec, Canada would not be able to travel to the coming race date of April 3-5, 2020, to defend his title, if the race were to be held on its proposed date: which it is not. Because Man Cup has announced its race for that date is canceled. They are hoping and planning for better days ahead while keeping a close eye on the CDC recommendations and monitoring daily the progress of the medical communities. As Jay Regan, the principal leader of Man Cup mentioned in his press release (Read Here) “These are unprecedented times.” He could not have worded it better.

Another motorcycle drag racing event recently canceled is the “Kings of Grudge” event slated for March 20-21 at the South Carolina Motorplex. Daytona “Bike Week” was cut short, Donald Long’s “Sweet 16” big radial tire racing event set for March 19-21, was postponed until October 9-11, to be run in conjunction with No Mercy 11 set for October, 15-18.

The great South Georgia Motorsports Park racing facility announced on March 18, that it has canceled or is rescheduling all racing events through April 1st, with the exception of private testing. The future racing events beyond that date are to be determined as needed.

While the motorcycle drag racing community at large struggles to deal with federal, state and local authorities; it is important for racers and fans to realize that these governing authorities are telling the racing sanctions and promoters what they can and can’t do. The racing facilities, located in various jurisdictions, are subject to many laws ordinances: a race track’s ability to operate in accordance with all laws is really a very complex subject. And the times they are changing rapidly.

This “Triage” tent facility is set up outside this hospital to facilitate patient screening to isolate needless exposure of hospital staff and patients. They will become common to many hospitals in the days ahead.

The COVID-19 virus was declared a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11. According to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, the progression of this virus will pass through phases that are all very predictable. Rapid medical treatment by the world medical communities is the key to preventing this new novel strain of Coronavirus from taking hold and doing grave damage to untold numbers.

Something people need to keep in mind that testing people and identifying carriers as well as the sick is paramount to stopping the spread of this disease. To do this federal, state and local authorities are ramping up for massive testing. In Boston, for instance, whereas close to 500 tests a day were once performed, various businesses are set up to test over 1,000 a day. There are now drive-up locations that can perform a test on someone in 4 to 6 minutes, without a person even exiting their car. These locations can perform upwards of 100 tests a day.

Tii Tharpe is seen here, thundering away on his Top Fuel Harley in front of another sold out day of racing at New England Dragway during the 2019 NHRA, New England Nationals.

Because of this, once the testing data becomes compiled, the overall number of cases, coast to coast in the USA will skyrocket. Please be ready for this and do not panic. There is an unknown number of carriers and sick who don’t know they are carriers at this time. This is why travel and sporting events, children in school – everything in our everyday lives is being impacted. In time, with early treatment and intervention, the medical community will get a handle on this and all will return to normal. But this will take a period of weeks to months; there is no quick fix for this problem.

There are many things the motorcycle drag racing community can do to address this issue in these challenging times. First and foremost remain positive and find ways to inspire others. Think globally and act locally. Obey the laws while finding ways to help your neighbors in troubled times. Older people who have difficulty getting out to go shopping – go shopping for them. Stop by and ask if they need anything. When you see the drive up testing sites, bring a case or 12-pack of bottled water with you and hand it off to the nearest person: be kind to all.

Drag racing fans world-wide can’t wait to see the nitromethane poured and hear the monsters roar once again.

Racers need to watch the official hosting web sites of their sanction of choice and be ready for schedule changes. Stop knocking the race promoters who have no say in these canceled or postponed events. They too are losing revenue, just as the racers and their families are. Please do NOT engage in illicit street racing or encourage this! The NHRA and every racing sanction that has descended from this organization did so to combat illegal street racing, thereby saving the lives of racers, law enforcement officers and innocent members of the public.

It is in the best interests of the racing community as a whole, to band together just as we race together.

In major professional stick & ball sports, some big-name athletes have stepped forward and offered up part of their annual salaries to help pay the workers who are out of work at various sports arenas where they play. This is but one example of the community at large helping the extended family. We all need this positivity and less negativity.

Tough times don’t last but tough people do, be the change you wish and need to see in others.


Tom McCarthy Until Next time…

– Tom McCarthy