The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
While there is never a good time for a business to close its doors indefinitely, Winston Kelley of the NASCAR Hall of Fame has a positive outlook.
“We’re actually in a very good window relative to projects,” Kelley, the executive director of the Hall of Fame tells RACER. “We just completed a number of things. Our exhibits director said it was probably the busiest time they’ve had over the last six, eight months than since before we opened.”
Making a list of all that was done would be quite extensive. A few projects include a significant exhibit upgrade completed last September with more interactive features. Glory Road in the main hall got a makeover in January with the help of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Hall of Honor for new Hall of Fame inductees also underwent a makeover for the 2020 class.
Initially, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak had the HoF closed through the end of March. However, in compliance with national, state, and local public health orders, it will remain closed until further notice.
Events the HoF was planning to holding have either been postponed, such as the Talladega race viewing, or canceled, like the Pinewood Derby Championship. Kelley says the most significant impact that shutting the HoF doors has is on the employees, who are energized by being engaged.
“Organizations tend to work as well as ever under (crises), and I think that’s what we’re seeing all over the country, within the industry, and we’ve seen that with the Hall of Fame,” says Kelley. “I think the biggest thing is the disappointment of not being able to serve customers on a day to day basis, but as soon as it happened, people reacted promptly. We didn’t hear a lot from customers even leading up to when (everything) was evolving before we decided that [closing] was the best thing for us to do for the safety of our employees [and] guests. We didn’t wait until we were told to close. We didn’t hear anything negative whatsoever; we got supportive calls and emails from our members.
“As we were leading up to the decision, there were some of the events in the Hall of Fame that called and were looking at options to reschedule as travel restrictions on their folks if they were coming from out of town came down. But we had a very nimble workforce that was able to work with them. The overwhelming majority of those events wanted to reschedule. There are a few [that], because of their particular schedule, chose to cancel and would hope to rebook if their convention comes back into town. So, from an operational and logistic standpoint, it was something that we were able to manage very effectively.”
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is part of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which also includes the Charlotte Convention Center (which it is attached to), Ovens Auditorium, Bojangles Coliseum (home of the Charlotte Checkers and host of concert events, figure skating, etc.), and the Spectrum Center where the Charlotte Hornets play.
There is a collective CRVA ‘all in it together’ mentality that has the entitles working together on areas like sales, marketing, HR, accounting, IT and research across all brands. On that basis, Kelley said he believes the HoF will ride out the current situation.
“Our organization is very strong and has built up a bit of a reserve – you could call it a rainy day fund if you will – that will make us very viable and a lot of our business is booked long-term,” said Kelley. “The convention-type business, the Convention Center is going through a remodeling and adding space to serve a lot of breakout space, so we’re seeing strong signs of groups coming in longer term. But without getting too much in the weeds, the organization, as a whole, is very strong of which the Hall of Fame is a part.
“We’re very confident we’ll come out of this strong, and that’s a lot of what the team is doing now. Whether it’s the marketing team or sales or Hall of Fame team. What are the things that we can do to make sure we do come out strong? Because part of our role as an organization is to support the visitor economy, which employs one in nine people in the Charlotte region. We feel like we’re in a very good place.”
And in continuing to be positive, Kelley says he might spend his time more on social media to engage with NASCAR fans, but other than that, his workload will remain the same. Although for now, he walks upstairs to his home office instead of driving to the Hall of Fame.