Indianapolis 500 Running Without Fans
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.
“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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"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"?!)