It’s August in Indianapolis and that means the 104th running of the Indy 500 will take place on Aug. 23. You can watch the race live on WTHR-TV Channel 13 and/or listen to it on WIBC-FM 93.1. Despite all the challenges, I have no doubt the IMS team will again present the greatest race in motorsports, and it will be worthy of your attention and support.
Of course, watching on TV or listening on the radio are your only options. As everyone surely knows by now, no fans will be allowed at the track. It’s a darn shame. While this wouldn’t have been the full-blown event we’re used to—with only 25% fan capacity, as had been the plan—I thought running the race with any reasonable number of fans would be a tremendously positive step in the right direction.
The Aug. 4 “no fans” announcement was heartbreaking to all the IMS staff, race fans who were willing to attend the live event, and the entire hospitality ecosystem that depends on this single event to provide money to sustain their businesses and themselves. The lost wages and local economic impact are hard to calculate, but they have to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
This is not a criticism of the decision. It’s not unexpected, and I don’t think IMS leaders had any other choice. Knowing them, I’m confident they did everything possible to make fans in the stands a reality. In fact, the night before the announcement, crews were working late into the night to continue to make improvements for the fans who would be arriving soon.
I can’t begin to imagine how many hours were spent creating and preparing to implement the master plan to protect race fans from coronavirus concerns and readying such a massive facility. I’d venture to say thousands of hours. IMS teams were bound and determined to run the race with fans in the stands. To make the call at the 11th hour to run it without fans had to be devastating.
I do want to give a big shout-out to Roger Penske, Mark Miles, Doug Boles, Allison Melangton and all those involved for having the courage to try. I really liked their chances of pulling it off and applaud the effort.
So, why did IMS pull the plug so late in the game? Of course, the primary concern was always first and foremost the safety of fans. There were frequent conversations in the past few weeks and particularly in the last few days with Gov. Holcomb and staff and Mayor Hogsett and staff about metrics and looking at the trends of the coronavirus breakout. And the numbers continued to head in the wrong direction.
However, when I looked at the master plan with all the preparation, procedures and safety protocols put in place for fan safety, which included having your temperature checked on your way into the track, seating arrangements focused on social distancing in this massive facility, wearing a mask at all times, including outside, and a seemingly endless list of other precautions, I believe this would have been the safest place to be in the city that day.
But, here we are. All on-track activity, including practice, qualifications and race day, is closed to the general public. But please break out your race gear and party attitude and enjoy this year’s Indy 500. Next May, things should be back on track for a return to what we know as the greatest spectacle in racing—live and in person!
To the entire IMS staff—hang in there and thanks for all the extra effort. Race fans everywhere appreciate you.•
Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send email to email@example.com.