It felt like a second winter, which is a significant change if you live in a part of the country that doesn't traditionally get snow. Our social distancing guidelines and civic duty required each of us to do our part, and we did – even though it meant no Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack and no time behind the wheel.
But now, we're beginning to emerge. Things look different, of course, and sometimes feel different. But when it comes to protecting ourselves from germs, there's no better place to do it than alone behind the wheel of our cars – never closer to anyone than a point-by.
With that attitude, Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack began to open up, but with a couple of twists. Drivers meetings were held throughout the afternoon. Participants could choose which meeting time to attend to keep the groups smaller. Organizers asked drivers to wear masks when they are out of their vehicles and away from their personal paddock spaces. Those paddock spaces are spread just a little bit wider than usual. Hand sanitizer is much more apparent, and all coaches and administrators wore masks.
"My concerns before the event were unfounded," Dick Patullo, TNiA Driver Coach and long time SCCA member, participant, and leader, said. "I had no trouble communicating with drivers in a mask. I did switch to a clear face shield when working pit lane, and that worked well, too."
Down in Texas, administrator and Event Lead Courtney Rivers expected to have some new challenges putting on safe events that still felt like Track Nights. She learned that wearing a mask required some different styles of communicating but that the message stayed the same.
"A few times, I caught myself walking across the paddock, seeing a friend and smiling at them," Rivers said. "Of course, I quickly realized that they couldn't see me smiling under my mask, and with my sunglasses and hat on, it just looked like I was staring at them. And that's how I learned the new, heightened importance of a friendly wave, a thumb's up, or a 'How's it going?'"
The answer to 'how's it going?' was always 'Fantastic!'
As anyone who has ever attended a Track Night event knows, the staff on hand is there to make sure that participants have a great, safe event. The reason? Each of them is an enthusiast first and wants to share the fun of being on track. And did it work?
"Every event Pre and post-COVID has been great," participant John Loflin said. "I don't think the COVID rules hurt the event because everyone has the same goal, to get on the track."
Even in Texas, where it can be, well, more-than-slightly warm, the masks were a small price to pay for getting back on track.
"I think most people think wearing the face-covering is a minor inconvenience," Brian Henderson said. "It allows us to get out to events we love and reconnect with our car community. I view it in the same manner as the weather. You can't worry about what you can't control."
And there seemed to be something else at play, from event organizers to participants – pride. Kathy Barnes, a Track Night Event Lead, who has quite possibly attended more SCCA events, in more roles, in more disciplines, than anyone in the Club, noticed it first.
"The pride at being part of one of the first events coming back was evident all day, and unexpected," she said.
And yet, it was there. The goosebumps rose, and the anticipation of getting on track wasn't lessened by wearing a mask in the paddock. The shared feeling of community and understanding didn't disappear because people couldn't see each other's grins. They smiled with their eyes instead.
The model of Track Night from the start is to allow anyone to progress at their own pace. Want to stay in the KONI Novice Experience for 15 consecutive events? That's entirely all right. Taking a corner slower than you know you probably could because you have to drive your car to work tomorrow? Encouraged!
Likewise, not everyone is ready to return to the world yet. But when you are? Track Night is here. Track Night is available. And Track Night is, as always, taking the precautions necessary to keep you as safe as possible both on track and off.