NASCAR to use COVID-19 detecting dogs at Atlanta

NASCAR is going to the dogs, at least as an experiment. The sanctioning body announced Tuesday that they will use COVID-detecting dogs as part of their screening process this weekend. The use of detection dogs isn’t a new concept at NASCAR races as law enforcement K-9s, primarily explosive detection canines, have been seen for years.

Dogs that can detect COVID are relatively new but have been used in the sports world recently. Late last year, the NBA Miami Heat experimented with them early in the season among players and a small number of fans, mainly family and friends of the team. In January, the Heat began using the dogs to screen the limited numbers of fans allowed into games.

NASCAR will focus on screening those in the industry entering the garage area.

“We think that these dogs and this capability is going to allow us to rapidly confirm that all of those people entering the essential footprint on Sunday — that’s race teams, that’s NASCAR officials, that’s the vendors that work inside the garage — all those folks are COVID-free or not,” Tom Bryant, NASCAR managing director of racing operations told “The ability to do that has kind of been the math problem that we have continuously tried to solve since March of last year.”

For this Sunday’s trial, two teams of dogs will screen those personnel entering the garage area. IF the dog alerts, the individual being screened will be isolated and get secondary screening by the American Medical Response (AMR) Safety Team’s lead physicians. Under NASCAR’s bubble, drivers still remain separated and won’t be screened.  Nor will the limited number of fans allowed in the grandstands this weekend be screened.

After being shut down in March of last year, NASCAR worked to develop procedures that keep teams, drivers, and officials isolated in a “bubble.” The sport returned in May and completed its season with most races have no, or limited fans.

With the pandemic still prevalent the bubble remains in force this season, and as the country opens up, more and more fans are being allowed into sporting events depending on local, and CDC guidelines.  The NASCAR bubble will remain, at least for the foreseeable future.

Under the NASCAR guidelines put in place last year there has been no individual screenings required. Bryant said the sanctioning body was well aware of the challenges that would come with large-scale screening.

With vaccinations rolling out, and the numbers decreasing, the end of the pandemic seems to be in sight. However, Bryant said the industry will be maintaining its vigilance, including keeping its bubble in place and continuing limited access.

“As much as things are getting better, it’s still very much a challenge,” Bryant said. “So this tool is going to help us as the virus evolves, we’re evolving with our approach to how we minimize exposure and create the safest possible environment to race.

“You’ve heard the drivers and everybody in the industry talk about the energy and the sense you get and the feeling you get when you’ve got all the fans right there, enjoying the action. That’s what we’re going to get back to, and I’m a big optimist that we’re much closer to getting back to that than we were. I’m really excited for the day when that comes, and this is a tool that can help us get closer to that.”

Greg Engle