It’s well over a decade ago now, but I will never forget covering a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, standing in the infield and having two-time series champion Brad Leighton say to me, “I don’t know if you know this, but racing is kind of a selfish sport.”

Leighton was referring to a question I’d asked him about somebody else who won the race he’d just competed in. He hadn’t been aware until that moment who had visited victory lane that day.

As New England states prepare for wider re-opening phases this week in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, race tracks are among those rushing to get back in business.

In less than a week, there will be auto racing in northern New England.

This week the Pro All Stars Series (PASS), Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and Wiscasset Speedway were among the tracks and touring series to announce modified plans for beginning their respective season. For PASS, they will kick off their year with a race at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Sunday, June 7. Wiscasset will hold open practice sessions for its weekly divisions beginning Saturday, June 6.

Beech Ridge begins with practice sessions for its Thursday Thunder divisions on Thursday, June 4.

And if you can’t wait quite that long after already suffering through the nearly three-month coronavirus pandemic while waiting for a return to normalcy, the Granite State Pro Stock Series (GSPSS) will hold the first touring series event of 2020 on Friday, June 5 at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire.

In all three instances, there will be strict social distancing guidelines in place. In all three instances, spectators will not be allowed in attendance.

I have my reservations about how all this will work.

First and foremost, there are the inherent safety risks in a sport that’s faced safety concerns since the first time an automobile tried to outrun another over a closed course.

Secondly, the local auto racing industry is built at the gate — both the front gate and the pit gate — in a business model with a razor-thin profit margin just to pay purses, meet codes and provide a product summer after summer.

NASCAR at its highest level needs no fans. The sport is driven at the Cup Series level by million-dollar television and sponsor contracts. The sooner the sanctioning body got cars on the track, the better for all involved with the bottom line.

NASCAR’s national series are also major-league sports. They can, and will, enforce social distancing policies and have the ability to pull off testing and self-policing.

Do I trust Claremont Speedway to do the same?

When southern states opened with regional touring series events in front of either no fans or a limited amount of fans, their tracks touted “social distancing guidelines” being in effect. What I saw on the internet were photos of fans crammed into grandstands and crew members shoulder to shoulder under tents during pre-race meetings. No masks, no distance.

Racers want to race, and promoters and owners locally here should be commended for trying to appease the most overlooked members of the community — the ones who assume so much financial and personal risk just to put on the shows that generate what meager cash flow there is.

As the sport turns its first laps over the next week or so here at home, I hope nobody contracts COVID-19.

I hope even harder nobody in motorsports contracts COVID-19.

Getting open is only half the battle in this case. Vigilance about maintaining proper mandates from local, state and federal governments is paramount to not only continuing to race — but also to the next step of allowing more races and — ultimately — fans.

You may not think you’re at risk for COVID-19. You might not think it’s any worse than the common cold. You might even go so far as to tell anybody who’ll listen that this is all just a big, media-driven hoax. But this is not the time for racers to think only about themselves.

A sport at the local level which can barely survive in the best of economic times can’t afford a setback. Whatever racers, officials and promoters think personally or politically, this will all be about the optics.

Wear the mask. Stay six feet apart. Don’t get sick. If you can’t meet those simple asks at the end of the day, you might have more than a couple of months off from racing. You might have years if the sport can’t recover sustainably.

For the next few weeks in Maine and New Hampshire, racers will be best served by thinking about others first. After all, the old adage in racing is as true now as it ever was.

“To finish first, you must first finish.”

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