Tens of thousands of race fans will race into the Martinsville Speedway this weekend. They will jam up the roads, bring along their coolers and get ready for a couple of afternoons of watching the top drivers in NASCAR speed around the oval called The Paperclip.
A lot of planning and commitment of time and resources goes into getting those fans safely into and out of the speedway on Saturday and Sunday. And the responsibility for their safety extends from officials with NASCAR and the speedway through all levels of law enforcement and public security expertise. But no one really likes to be specific, including about how much all of this costs.
Henry County Public Safety monitors for various types of potential safety issues before and during races at the speedway, using local, regional, state and federal resources.
“For security purposes, I prefer not to go into great detail as to what resources we have,” Henry County Public Safety Director Matt Tatum wrote in an email.
He did say that his department works with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, National Guard Civil Support Team and the Air National Guard Weather Team.
“The total number of personnel that our operation will use usually is about 40-45,” he said.
“We attempt to pre-inspect all areas of the facility for potential hazards and threats. Our team does not address health and first-aid needs, nor do we respond to wrecks unless the incident resulted in a mass-casualty-type event. Otherwise, these are attended to by other contracts that the track maintains.”
Asked to comment on security measures, including protocols on the worst kind of threats, terrorism or mass shootings, Tatum said this:
“This is outside of our scope, and any such preparations would be done through the [Henry County] Sheriff’s Office, if they exist.”
As vice president of operations at Martinsville Speedway, Matt Brannock oversees all security at the speedway. But he doesn't like to divulge many details about his plans.
“Due to the sensitivity of this information, specifics cannot be released,” Brannock wrote in an email.
But in addition to security, what services are in place to respond in the event of health or medical emergencies, fire, serious wrecks, etc.?
“In reference to events (vehicle crashes) occurring on the racing surface, NASCAR as the sanctioning body, dictates exactly what level of staffing and response is required, and they dispatch the pertinent assets based on input provided by the initial on-scene personnel,” Brannock said.
“We have two separate emergency services teams: exterior and interior. One team handles all required emergency responses occurring in the infield at the direction of NASCAR, and the other team focuses on events occurring outside of the infield.”
Brooks Taylor, director of public relations for the Martinsville Speedway, was perfunctory while professing a commitment to keeping the fans safe.
“We take safety and security very importantly and work to ensure the best experience for everyone,” he said. “We use federal, state and local resources. We are always monitoring and adjusting our security measures, based on feedback from the above agencies.
“The State Police handle traffic on the roads. Henry County Sheriff’s Department handles [it] on property.”
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady and Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper said officers at their departments who work for Martinsville Speedway races generally do so on a contractual basis and are paid by the speedway.
“Their assignments are set by the Henry County Sheriff’s office,” Cassady said.
Cassady said officers also come from Patrick, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, and Danville.
Officials with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office referred questions to the speedway.
Jeff Caldwell, director of external affairs for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said his organization's involvement at the races is to "provide a hazardous materials officer and one member of our Region 6 team to attend the races Saturday and Sunday and provide coordination, consultation and monitoring services to race organizers.
"Our team members provide expertise on security and emergency planning, and coordinate resource needs from the Henry County and Martinsville first respondents as needed,” he said.
“NASCAR’s safety record speaks for itself," Denver Smith, a motorsports instructor at Patrick Henry Community College, said. "We are very fortunate to have the best safety crew in racing there each time the race comes to town [at Martinsville Speedway]."