CONCORD, N.C. -- Tommy Kelly has been camping Memorial Day weekend outside Charlotte Motor Speedway for 15 years.
Why should a pandemic that kept fans out of the Coca-Cola 600 bust up that tradition?
Kelly sat under an awning attached to his camper Sunday afternoon, across Morehead Road from the speedway. He was surrounded by a half-dozen friends and family. They had makings for a Lowcountry Boil, motorcycles to ride and a big-screen TV set up for the race's scheduled start around 6 p.m.
So even with COVID-19 restrictions keeping fans out of the track, this felt familiar and comfortable.
"This wasn't no different -- we just come, drink a few beers, cook food and have a good time. Then, watch the race on television," said Kelly, a former speedway employee.
Kelly's group set up camp on Thursday. There was a circle of four campers early afternoon Sunday that slept about a dozen people. More friends showed up Saturday night, making for a party of about 20 for cornhole, food and music. With no fans allowed to enter the speedway for the race, about half that group left Sunday morning.
"I thought there would be (more people) at this location," Kelly, who lives in Kannapolis, said of the closest campsite not on speedway land. "I guess everybody is staying home, but we don't. We're diehards!"
For Patti Griggs, who works in meat-processing in Salisbury, the prospect of doing anything not restricted by North Carolina's stay-at-home order was very appealing, even without access to the track.
"Nothing is open. You can't really do anything. This is a way to (socialize) safely with friends who are like family," said Griggs, whose husband is related to Kelly.
"I am ready for normalcy!' said Griggs, from Concord. "Even with no fans, you can still watch it" on TV.