Under a turbulent, early summer sky a line of Radical RXC GTs trails behind a C8 Corvette pace car appropriately painted Elkhart Lake Blue. There’s a track-wide caution as the parade passes in front of me, slowly lapping around The Carousel. It’s a quiet Saturday morning at the track and I sat back to sip from a thermos of coffee. Minutes later, the distant buzzes of revs rocketed, followed by the immediate slapping of gearshifts. The green flag waved and the chaos resumed.
Road America hasn’t let the threat of COVID-19 put a black flag to racing. Several modifications have been made to ensure spectator safety. Things like posted reminders about practicing “social distancing,” readily available hand sanitizer, and contactless ticket purchasing options. Attending the annual SVRA Spring Vintage Festival (well, scratch that, it was rescheduled from May) proved that it was easy and possible to still be a car enthusiast during this rather bizarre, heavy pandemic. It felt almost reliving being that nearly every other aspect of our day-to-day lives has been uprooted and changed. There, I successfully spent six hours perched at different locations around the sprawling four-mile circuit and never once got within 50 feet of anyone else.
But this isn’t always the case. As local car shows start back up again and smaller oval tracks resume their nightly events, the grandstands become packed and parking lots get crowded. In these circumstances, one simply cannot practice “physical distancing,” the more aptly named term recently coined. While the CDC, WHO, and many of today’s top epidemiologists suggest the risk of COVID-19 transmission is substantially lower when outdoors- we’re quickly learning that doesn’t necessarily hold true in spaces where hundreds of others are congregating, especially when face masks are recklessly, irresponsibly absent.
Is it worth taking a chance? No. Especially since there are still plenty of ways to actively be a car enthusiast in time where it feels like we’re severely limited. That’s where this art of adapting comes into play: Giving up some things we take great joy in doing for the sake of protecting ourselves and our communities.
Yes, I am deeply bummed I’ve already committed to not attending our popular local weekly cruise night this summer. It sucks because for over a decade now this has been my go-to Tuesday routine, but I’d rather not catch a virus that has the potential to isolate myself or my family in the hospital. To suffice, I’ve taken to now committing one evening during my work week to what I happily call “Project car time.” I never would have acknowledged how much of an exodus it feels to commute to my rented $75-per-month storage unit, unlock the door, and dive into hours of wrenching around on my beloved 2001 Chevrolet Camaro.
I’ve migrated most of my tools to this 10 x 20 box, hung a few things up on its walls, and order whatever replacement car parts and essential fluids I need from online vendors rather than walking into the nearest AutoZone. The last strategy has panned out to be much more efficient, cheaper, and shockingly easier than I had expected. With a rechargeable Bluetooth speaker and strong cell reception, I can find whatever helpful YouTube video I need to watch while swapping out a corroded ignition control module or listen to my favorite podcasts and cliche country music.
There’ve been other surprising side effects too of quarantining for months, like realizing how atrocious my coordination is when playing Gran Turismo Sport on PS4 or being able to pay off the remainder of my car loan four years early using the money I’ve saved by not going out or traveling.
All of this for the sake of staying healthy? For me, this honestly hasn’t been that bad of a total alteration.