Working from home just got weird.
Covering the Darlington race from my house was something once considered verboten in my profession. There was a time when it was considered a firing offense.
No more. Now it’s likely to become the new normal.
It was a surreal experience setting up my own press box in the den, two laptops on the coffee table, my NASCAR “hard-card” credential hanging from one and driver scanners blaring from the other.
I was never going to go to this race. None of my colleagues were, either. There were four writers covering the race from the old third-turn press box at the track, and there was some sort of compound outside the track.
There was no one else in my den, well other than my wife folding clothes and Sammy the dog, who is confused by the fact that we’re both home all the time these days.
Darlington was once a tradition with my family and friends, a two-day trip that included an infield party the night before the race that was legendary for all the wrong reasons.
Some of those nights came back to me as I watched the race without fans, without tents and campfires, without pickup trucks against the infield fence, scaffolding built in the beds, some with swimming pools on the top level.
Race fans are the most dedicated in all of sports. Darlington fans are a whole other animal.
And so were the sportswriters I sat alongside when I covered the sport back in the day. Some of us traded stories as we sat on our couches watching the race from all over the South.
It’s an odd feeling right now with the sport starting up again in the place it started up to begin with. Darlington, Charlotte, Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Homestead and Talladega are the only races scheduled as of now.
So in a sense, NASCAR’s most diehard fans have finally gotten their sport back. But they can’t go to the races.
Strange days indeed.
If and when we ever get back to normal, there’s a real possibility that sportswriters won’t be returning to the way we were. Social distancing, living with the virus and, quite frankly, me writing from home could be the new normal.
Cramped press boxes, cramped locker rooms, post-game interviews and access to coaches and athletes might become quaint memories.
All across the South, I chatted and texted and tweeted with racing writers who have no intention of going back to the track anytime soon.
Zoom interviews and press statements have become the only way to cover sports as the races and games ease back into strange startups, none of them with fans, none of them with media the way we remember from just two months ago.
Writing from home was like any other day as it turned out. “Covering” a race on television wasn’t as dirty as I assumed it would be. But I really did hang my credential on my other laptop. It somehow made it legitimate.
They raced for 400 miles, and I watched the whole thing just as I would’ve from the old track.
But when it ended, there was just silence.
Usually, your ears are ringing and you’re scrambling to make deadline, writing in a crowded media center as drivers and crew chiefs and owners are hustled in and out for post-race interviews.
It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s pressure-packed. It’s what I live for.
When the race ended today, my wife was making dinner, my dog was sleeping by my side. And outside, it was a beautiful evening.
I didn’t have a three-hour drive, navigating drunk race fans and Highway Patrol from two states between the race track and the house.
It was so weird.
But as Hunter S. Thompson said, when the going gets weird, the weird go pro.
I put my hard card back in my laptop bag and tossed it into a corner. It’s been there for two months.
It might just be there for a long, long time.