Racing fans face tighter restrictions

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2001

ATLANTA -- The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States are certain to change the way racing does its business this weekend and beyond.

Changes will be evident during the MBNA 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway as raceway officials do the unthinkable: restrict coolers at a stock car race. Large bags and backpacks also will be prohibited at the Dover, Del., race track. And officials at other tracks said such restrictions might be the sport's new way of doing business. Since the start 52 years ago, NASCAR has allowed fans to bring their own food and drink to a main event as long as it fits inside a 14-inch-wide cooler. That's a perfect way to avoid $5 beer and weekend-old hot dogs.

No more.

Fans will be searched, and security will be on alert. The Air Force will be on standby. After all, the death toll from the attacks on the Pentagon, the twin towers at the World Trade Center and an airline crash in a western Pennsylvania hillside is expected to surpass 5,000. The expected attendance for Sunday's race will be about 145,000.

''While we regret that we have to step up our security measures to this extent, it is, at this time, completely necessary,'' said Denis McGlynn, Dover Downs president. ''We think it is of the highest importance that this race takes place in a completely safe manner.''

The International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., two companies that operate raceways that are host to 28 of 36 races, said they probably would follow the same strict security guidelines.

But race teams feel the important thing is to get back to business. Coolers and picnic baskets shouldn't be so important they will keep fans from attending races and, most importantly, allow terrorists to affect their everyday lives.

''Part of the reason that we're racing is that we don't want to disappoint anybody,'' driver Tony Stewart said. ''Those who want to see a race this weekend and live their lives like they expect to, they should. Maybe a weekend off has given everyone some time to heal.

''Perhaps putting on a good show for the fans is what we need right now.''

Dover Air Force Base's Civil Air Terminal is where the 125-airplane armada that follows the circuit usually congregates. The government, citing security reasons and their ongoing work with the Pentagon victims, will close the runways to private jets and corporate airplanes. The Department of Defense has a national mortuary at the base. Nearly 250 specialists are on hand to process the bodies recovered at the Pentagon.

The base usually has a huge presence at the track, but many soldiers now have more pressing duties like getting ready for war.

''Because of the current situation, we have to cut back considerably,'' said U.S. Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Christine Kunz. ''We're still having participation, but it will be very minimal.''

The sport was shaken in 1978 when private planes landed at Dover and saw mountains of metal caskets stacked on the tarmac. It turned out to be the 900 suicide victims from Jim Jones' religious cult in Africa.

But now the mortuary is full of murder victims, and the training grounds around the base are full of the nation's youth training for war.

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