LEXINGTON — Craig Rust has been busier than usual this week — and that is good news for racing fans in north central Ohio.
The president of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Rust is working overtime to see that the 2.4-mile road course in the rolling hills outside of Lexington is in compliance for this weekend’s Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
“We’re busy,” Rust said from the track early Thursday afternoon, “but it’s a good problem to have.”
Mid-Ohio’s first two spectator events, the NASCAR Xfinity Series Mid-Ohio 170 and AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, were postponed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
That makes the Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio the de facto opening weekend to the 2020 racing season.
It’s taken a lot of collaboration with state and local officials to arrive at this point. Rust and his team have worked closely with Gov. Mike DeWine’s office, as well as the Morrow County health department and commissioners' office.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult, but it certainly has been challenging,” Rust said. “From the time everything got locked down up until this point, it has taken a lot of patience.”
The Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, like all spectator weekends, draws participants and fans from all across the country.
“We’ve got people that travel to our larger events from probably all 50 states,” Rust said. “That is one thing we have tried to relate to them, please take a look at your state’s protocols and guidelines and then take a look at Ohio’s protocols and guidelines.
“When you’re working with different series that are all trying to reschedule things and move things around, you’re trying to put those puzzle pieces together and you’re dealing with a lot of different entities.”
Mid-Ohio will adhere to the guidelines stipulated in DeWine’s Responsible RestartOhio initiative.
Attendance will be limited and the grandstands will remain closed to comply with social distancing rules. All fans must enter through Gate 3 and will be subject to temperature checks and health assessments by Mid-Ohio staff.
Tent and motor-home camping is available.
“We’re trying to communicate with fans, and I don’t mean to make it sound overly-simple, to use common sense,” Rust said. “It’s an outdoor event, but bring a mask and try not to congregate.”
Mid-Ohio has always prided itself on its accessibility. Fans often mingle with drivers in the garage area and have access to pit lane before the start of events.
The paddock will be open this weekend, but pit lane will be closed to spectators.
“The paddock is open, but we want our fans to be respectful of the drivers and the teams down there,” Rust said. “If we all use common sense, we’ll have a good kick-off event and show people that we can handle this.”
Rust couldn’t have asked for a better event for opening weekend. The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association is making its 38th stop at Mid-Ohio.
“We’ve hosted this event for a number of years,” Rust said. “I’m happy (opening weekend) is this and not the IndyCar race or the Sports Cars. This is probably as good of an event as you can have to kick things off with the fans.”
SVRA president and CEO Tony Parella agreed.
“Mid-Ohio (is an) important venue for our sport and as the economy opens, we are able to move forward with responsible precautions,” Parella said.
SVRA and Mid-Ohio officials have worked closely in the run-up to this weekend’s event.
“We worked with SVRA and Trans Am and Formula 3 and Formula 4 to make sure they had protocols in place for their teams,” Rust said. “Our protocols are on top of that. We believe we have a good plan going into this weekend and if we do feel like there is something we could have done better, the next time around we’ll make those changes and implement best practices.
“We’re looking forward to a good weekend and hopefully its the first of many good weekends this summer.”