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Supercross returns to racing this weekend in Utah

Supercross followed other sports around the world in shutting down during the coronavirus pandemic.

The kickstands are going back up this weekend.

Following the lead of NASCAR and the UFC, Supercross returns to the track Sunday at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, kicking off a run of seven races in three weeks to conclude the circuit's season.

“It's been a long time since I've been to an event and on the flight here, I was fighting back a smile the whole time,” David Prater, director of operations for Supercross at Feld Motor Sports, said from Salt Lake City. “I'm just so happy and excited to get back to work, along with our entire staff and industry."

The Supercross season had an epic duel going between Eli Tomac of Cortez, Colorado, and German Ken Roczen, two riders chasing their first season championships.

The bikes came to a screeching halt due to the spreading pandemic after Tomac won his fifth race of the season at Dayton International Speedway on March 7. Several riders were headed to the next race at Indianapolis when the shtudown hit and scrambled to get home.

The series was through 10 of 17 races when engines were turned off.

“It was all kind of surreal,” said Tomac, who leads Roczen by three points. “One day we were getting ready to go to Indianapolis for the next race, the next everything shut down.”

While the bikes were parked and riders locked down in their homes, Supercross officials kept an eye on developments with the coronavirus, stay-at-home orders in states across the country and in the sports world.

As the country started slowly opening up, Supercross started forming plans for a return to racing to avoid devastating financial consequences, both for the sport and the people who work in it. Officials formulated some of their own guidelines and consulted with other sports to make sure riders, teams and track officials would be safe.

Supercross initially expected to return in the fall, but hearing baseball was looking to return early pushed up those plans.

NASCAR and the UFC were two examples of how it could actually work.

NASCAR returned to racing in Darlington, South Carolina, on May 17 and has held three more races in the Cup series, the last two in Charlotte.

The UFC returned to the octagon on May 9 for the first of three cards in Jacksonville, Florida, and will put on fights in Las Vegas for the first time this weekend.

“It's real encouraging,” Prater said. “The amount of communication between the different leagues, between the different racing series is priceless because we've been able to avoid even early-on hiccups through this whole process.”

Supercross initially had talks with five states about returning to the dirt and ultimately decided on Utah, in part because the state gave the green light first.

The seven races, which last through June 21, will have numerous safety precautions in place.

All riders, teams and race officials — 705 total people — have to fill out a screening questionnaire before arriving and will be tested for COVID-19 at the track. There will be daily temperature checks for everyone who arrives at the stadium, social-distancing rules and personnel will be broken down into small functional groups.

Face coverings also must be worn at all times.

“We all wanted to get back to work, but we wanted to do it the right way and the safe way,” Prater said.