David Griffin, Getty

On May 17 it will be a full calendar year since NASCAR became the first professional sport in the United States to resume its season after a two-month lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19. And again, stock car racing is leading the way when it comes to getting back to normal operations.

On Thursday, NASCAR announced an update to its event operations protocols, stating that face masks will no longer be required by competitors while outdoors in the infield. The rule goes into effect on Sunday at Dover International Speedway. Masks will continue to be mandated inside of buildings, in team haulers, or other enclosed spaces and where their use is mandated by state and local authorities.

NASCAR's update to their protocols comes after the CDC's acknowledgement that outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is rare. While the CDC stated that "less than 10 percent" of COVID-19 transmission was occurring outdoors, a report by David Leonhardt of the New York Times shared that the rate of outdoor transmission was likely below 1 percent. According to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports, NASCAR relaxed its mask requirements within the pits and garage area with this in mind.

"Going forward, our focus is on encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and preventing indoor spread of COVID-19," read a NASCAR statement shared by Dustin Albino of

Nearly one year to the date that they resumed their 2020 season at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR has spearheaded efforts among professional sports towards coming as close to pre-pandemic operations as possible. Last week, NASCAR re-opened the garage area to a limited number of guests and media.

Several upcoming tracks on the 2021 schedule - Pocono Raceway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, Darlington, and Kansas Speedway - have all announced plans to host full-capacity crowds later this year.