By on August 5, 2020

Delayed six times by the coronavirus pandemic, Roger Penske vowed the Indy 500 would not be ran in 2020 without an audience in the stands. Having purchased the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway in January, Penske said he was willing to run the race with limited capacity (quoting estimates that continued to come down as the year progressed) and drafted an extensive manual to help organizers keep attendees safe. However, the document will no longer be needed, now that the decision has been made to hold the event with the rafters completely empty on August 23rd.

Safety has trumped good times once again as Mr. Penske noted cases continue to rise in Indiana, forcing him to recant his decision to allow fans into the venue. Only essential personnel will be allowed to enter this year’s Indianapolis 500.

“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,” Penske told the Associated Press in a recent interview, adding that the money wasn’t worth the risking of lives. It’s also unlikely to affect ratings as dramatically as your NBA/MLBs. Despite most motorsports having a tendency to draw in more fans as the likelihood of crashing increases, the benefits of mechanized blood sports are largely limited to what happens on the track.

Risking the health of patrons will garner Penske little more than negative publicity — even if the Speedway offers more than enough room for social distancing when operated at partial capacity. Meanwhile, IU Health (the state’s largest health care network) advised against hosting the event with fans present. IMS workers were said to be gobsmacked since the organization was instrumental in penning the safety guidelines it had intended to use. But Penske ultimately decided to continue following its guidance and prohibit guests entirely.

From AP:

“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,” Penske said in a telephone interview.

He said the financial ramifications of not hosting spectators — which even at 25 [percent] capacity, the mammoth facility could have held about 80,000 people — played no part in his decision. Rather, the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Marion County made shutting out spectators the responsible decision.

“We need to be safe and smart about this,” Penske said. “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.”

As part of the plan introduced two weeks ago for 25 [percent] of fan capacity, spectators who had purchased badges that granted them access to the garage and pit lane was going to be permitted, as well as infield access. Although the speedway, which can hold at least 350,000 spectators, has the space for social distancing, Penske did not want to put fans or competitors at risk.

He doesn’t sound overly pleased with having to make the decision. After spending a fortune to purchase and then spruce up the track, it has to be maddening for him to see it operating without cheering crows.

“Look, this is a long-term investment for us for many generations to come,” Penske said. “We will continue to improve the speedway, the competitors will get to see it over the next two weeks and we believe this decision now regarding the 500 is in the best interest of protecting the 500 for the future.”

[Image: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock]


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12 Comments on “Indianapolis 500 Running Without Fans...”

  • avatar

    I’ll still watch, but I’ll miss being there. Hopefully it’s just for this year. As long as cases keep rising, and mass gathering clips keep being released to the news (and then the inevitable “2 weeks later…x number of people…” stories), we’re not going to have any of these events.

    Right now the exact same decision making process is happening with the Kentucky Derby. Every couple of weeks it seems that the decision to scale back the number of fans in the stands and the infield is being changed to let fewer people in. I understand that a final decision is going to be made soon, and I would be amazed if they allow 10% capacity.

  • avatar

    I’ve been to 500 and the idea of that HUGE place with no fans is hard to imagine. The track becomes a mini city onto itself normally. Its a bummer but at least we can watch.

    Now waiting to see what happens with the St Pete GP. We were scheduled to go in March (like we do ever year) and it was one of the first major COVID related cancellations. So they pushed back to October, yet here we are in August and things have actually gotten worse down here in FL (for obvious reasons). Thus I don’t have my hopes up, I assume it too will run without fans.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is what happens when you have an economy based upon entertainment, rather than manufacturing.

    Sports, Hollywood, game shows, and racing are all in the same predicament.

    • 0 avatar

      Humans are social creatures, whether it’s your local pub or a huge stadium people like to hang out with other people. So it makes sense a large part of our economy is based on various social activities, services and/or experiences. As mentioned by others figuring out how to adapt your business to current conditions is the challenge. Some will be successful at this, but sadly others will not.

  • avatar

    There are those who are adaptable, and those who are not. This story really shows who is and isn’t adaptable.

    COVID-world requires us to adapt, at least until a vaccine is widely available.

    Running and watching a race without fans does require adaptation. But so what? Teamwork and adaptability are humanity’s superpowers. We can do this, and then change it back when the “weather” permits.

    I prefer the company of adaptable people — they dress for the weather.

  • avatar

    Formula One has done 4 races so far, all without live fans, and the production and logistics have been spot on. It works because the level of engagement is at all all time high, Netflix Drive to Survive series, drivers streaming on Twitch, field full of young talented drivers with lots of potential. F1 is just on another planet in terms of fan engagement right now.

  • avatar

    Oh, shucks, let’s just give up everything.

    More people tested with tests that have a significant rate of false positives gives more “positive” test result. Who would have thought.

    Ok, time to hate on me…

  • avatar

    > Despite most motorsports having a tendency to draw in more fans as the likelihood of crashing increases

    Also: For an auto publication this is incredibly ignorant and offensive. Nobody who watched Aryton Senna die thinks this, let alone Greg Moore, Dan Weldon, Justin Wilson, Jules Bianchi…

    It’s just unbelievable that you’d print this.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Chill, please. The original comment was spot-on.

      People don’t line up to watch flag football or curling, and the sports highlight reels always focus on the crashes.

      From Gladiator: “He’ll bring them death, and they’ll love him for it.”

  • avatar

    Poor Roger.

  • avatar

    “After spending a fortune to purchase and then spruce up the track, it has to be maddening for him to see it operating without cheering crows.”

    The crows would be welcome, but getting them to cheer would be a bit of a challenge.

    All this will clear up with time, and a good vaccine.

    (Seriously, though, how hard is it to proofread a few paragraphs before hitting “send”?!)

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