Joe Gibbs Racing team president Dave Alpern knew this would be a tough season. But Alpern meant when it came to the Toyota-led organization backing up a 19-win, championship 2019 season, not having to deal with a global pandemic that paused the racing season for over two months and resulted in safety protocols and restrictions.
Speaking to a group of media members this week, Alpern conveyed confidence with how the Gibbs organization has kept its employees safe. Like every large team that can separate its road and shop crew, those at Gibbs are working in shifts and limited numbers. The simplest way to explain it is that those who need to touch one of the Gibbs cars to make it race are on the campus. Those who don’t have to touch the car work from home.
Fifteen races in under a new routine, none of the Gibbs Toyota drivers have fallen ill. Alpern would not and felt he could not reveal if any employees or team members have tested positive for COVID-19.
But know they are operating under “tight protocols,” according to Alpern. The shop gets cleaned continuously, and any team meetings that happen to occur in person are small and spaced out. Masks are required.
“Nothing is bulletproof, but so far, they’ve served us well,” said Alpern of the protocols. “We’re not taking any chances.”
That means is that even if someone pops a 100-degree temperature in the heat walking from their car into the building, they are sent away. If anyone feels any sense of illness, even if it’s allergies, they are kept away from the shop. Employees have also been held out if they have family members who tested positive for the coronavirus, even if they are asymptomatic.
Alpern also applauded NASCAR for the way they are protecting the racing bubble. At the track, teams are limited to 16 team members, including the driver and spotter. Drivers are to self-isolate before reporting to their cars, and everyone who has been granted access to the facility must pass a medical screening beforehand.
NASCAR recommended before the sport returned that road crew and shop crew should be separated. Masks are always required at the track, and not even sponsors, media, public relations representatives, or team presidents like Alpern are permitted in the infield.
When NASCAR returned in May, there was talk around the sport doing regular testing. NASCAR requires those going to the track to answer a questionnaire beforehand and a temperature check, but they are not doing COVID-19 testing. Alpern understood and agreed with the idea of keeping tests available for those who needed them.
“Let’s say, for example, we were testing people every day. The second you leave the bubble, the test is rendered useless because you’ve tested, but now you’ve gone and exposed yourself,” said Alpern. “Again, if you’re in a bubble, testing makes complete sense because then you’re protecting the bubble.
“If you’re going in and out of the bubble, like baseball is and we’re doing, and we’re leaving and not coming back for another week. So the testing, from the beginning, we’ve tried to say let’s save that only for people who have been exposed or are symptomatic. I think the process has served us well.”
“We are militant about spacing and masks because we don’t want to get stopped, we don’t want to have problems, and we’re trying to keep all of our folks safe,” Alpern also said of JGR. “I feel really good about where we are, who we have (here). We have a very big facility and so the scale of our place in reference to how many people are coming to work, there’s more than enough room.
“I’ve joked, we’re about 100 times safer than trying to go get mulch at Lowe’s. It’s a lot less crowded here. I actually think the safest place all of our folks are on a given week is either at the track or here with all the protocols.”