After announcing last month that there would be fans in the stands for the postponed Indianapolis 500 later this month, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske has announced that this year’s 500 will be run without any fans.
This year marks the 104th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” marks the first time in the history of the 500 that it will be run without fans. Even during the Great Depression, fans attended the race.
Since its inception, the dates for the Indianapolis 500 have never been changed…until now. Originally scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in May, the race was postponed until August 23.
Penske, who bought the track in January, has been working hard to ensure the race could be run safely with fans. At first he said that the race wouldn’t run without fans in the stands that can hold up to 250,000 fans. But as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hold on, the decision was made to allow 50 percent capacity in the stands and then only 25 percent capacity as the virus continues to spread. Positive cases have continued to rise in Indiana and Marion County – the county where IMS is located – so in what Penske calls, “the toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life,” the race will be run without the fans in the stands. Penske added, “we didn’t buy the Speedway for one year, we bought it for generations to come, and it’s important to our reputation to do the right thing. We need to be safe and smart about this. Obviously we want full attendance, but we don’t want to jeopardize the health and safety of our fans and the community. We also don’t want to jeopardize the ability to hold a successful race.”
Penske has spent around $15 million upgrading the facility since buying the track.
Indiana’s largest health care system IU Health stated, “until we sustain better control of this virus and its spread, we strongly encourage IMS to consider an alternative to running the Indy 500 with fans in August.” IMS was surprised by the statement, especially after having worked with IU Health on the 88 page safety plan that would allow fans at the track.
IU Health continued, “we have concerns about the risks of infection beyond the scope of the IMS plan, including social gatherings, travel, restaurants, bars, accommodations and other event-related activities. This could lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections as we continue to see cases and hospitalizations increase every day.”
Penske noted that the letter was disappointing, but that it did not, “force his hand”, when it came to making his decision to close the track to spectators.
IMS said in a statement, “the number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled. We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment.”
The first day of practice at the track has been cancelled with the first day on the track for drivers being August 12. The annual Pit Crew Competition that is normally held two days prior to the race has also been cancelled for this year.
Like other sports, the IndyCar season has been ravaged by the pandemic. Once the season began, it has still had to undergo a number of changes to accommodate the increase in cases around the country.
feature photo credit: By redlegsfan21 – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38042704