Editor’s Note: With the outbreak of COVID-19 forcing racing around the globe to a sudden stop, SPEED SPORT is reaching out to members of the racing community to find out how the outbreak is impacting them, both as racers and in their daily lives.
This story is part of that ongoing series.
EATONTON, Ga. — While many drivers his age have had to deal with heading back home from college amid the global coronavirus pandemic, 18-year-old Rafe Slate has been able to largely keep to his daily routine.
Slate took a gap year after graduating high school last summer to focus on work duties and his racing program, and as such hasn’t felt quite as many of the effects of the current situation in his world as others may have.
That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t recognize what the world around him is going through.
“Not much has changed for me right now, but it’s not a good situation for anyone, what’s going on right now,” Slate told SPEED SPORT. “Obviously, we hope the situation that’s going on right now in the world is able to resolve sooner rather than later, but for now it’s not had too big an effect for me, personally.
“With taking a gap year this year, I’ve been working (at RepQuip Automotive Sales), so I mean it really hasn’t affected my work. Most of the time it’s just me, my boss and his wife in the office, so we’re not really at risk of spreading the virus like crazy if one of us were to get it,” Slate added. “Really, it’s just limiting yourself, not trying to get out very often, only getting out when you need to … and other than that just playing video games and working on race stuff and iRacing is about all I can really do in my shoes right now.”
As far as Slate’s racing program, the good news is that he’s only had one event altered to date as a result of coronavirus-related postponements or cancellations.
The bad news? That one event was the last guarantee he had on his late model schedule for the moment.
Slate was planning on taking part in the pro late model portion of the Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway in Opp, Ala., this month with his familiar No. 8.
However, the event has been pushed back to at least April 17-19, and it seems likely that it could be bumped further into the future as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact the United States.
Even that, however, was a “good news, bad news” situation for Slate’s team.
“We were all sights set on the Rattler and figuring out what we were going to do for that when everything started,” Slate recalled. “We were actually going to miss it because our motor’s still at McGunegill (Racing Engines) in Michigan after Montgomery … because it got torn up pretty bad there. We stayed up until seven in the morning the night before because my dad was supposed to go to Oswego (N.Y.) for a business trip and it got canceled the night of … so we stayed up until seven in the morning pulling out the motor and got it to Michigan for him to find out that he didn’t have to go anywhere. So that was a rough night.
“It ended up that it was going to take too long for them to get everything put back together to make the original Rattler date, so this actually saved us, pushing it back the way things got pushed back,” Slate continued. “So this really benefited us in a major way. Right now, whenever it happens, that’s our main focus for now. We’ve talked about some other races and what we’re going to do next, even looking at some super stuff possibly, but those are all decisions that we’re just going to talk about as we go along here.”
So with little racing on his immediate horizon and only so much he can do, Slate has done what much of the racing industry has done: turned to iRacing to keep his skills sharp.
“What you’ve seen with how the sim side of our sport has blown up right now, it’s really cool that we have that to be able to use and have something to do during a time like this,” Slate noted. “I honestly think it’s blown esports up more than even we expected it to. There’s no other esports like what we have in racing; there’s no football esports, there’s no baseball esports … it’s too disconnected from the real world. But you can get a set of pedals and stuff, or a wheel and a rig, and go out there and feel like you’re in a race car.
“Right now, you have real people doing the same things that they do on the track, but they’re sitting in their house racing and all the fans get to watch that. They get to watch the same drivers, do the same things and have the same attitudes on the race track as I have,” Slate continued. “That’s something you can’t get from baseball, football or basketball. It is different but it’s something all of us racers are grateful for.”
And when the time comes to get back to work at the race track for real, Slate offered an assurance that he’ll be ready.
“We’re waiting it out, like everyone is, but we’re fired up to get back there when we can and I’m looking forward to when that time comes, for sure.”