Indy 500 to run without fans in the stands

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The Indianapolis 500 (IBJ photo)

The 2020 running of the Indianapolis 500 will go forward without fans in the stands, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced Tuesday.

The decision is a concession to the coronavirus pandemic that has continued to infect more Hoosiers, despite efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

The race had been postponed from its usual Memorial Day weekend date to Aug. 23, before announcements that the track would limit seating to 50% and then later 25%—with masks required—and now with no fans at all.

“This tough decision was made following careful consideration and extensive consultation with state and city leadership,” IMS said in a statement.

“As dedicated as we were to running the race this year with 25% attendance at our large outdoor facility, even with meaningful and careful precautions implemented by the city and state, the COVID-19 trends in Marion County and Indiana have worsened.”

On Tuesday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 836 new COVID-19 cases, the fifth time in the past six days that new cases have exceeded 700.

Marion County reported an increase of 166 cases, the 19th straight day that cases in the county have risen by more than 100. The county’s 7-day testing-positivity rate rose to 9.1%, above the state’s 7-day rate of 7.3%

As a result of the increases, Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, have slowed or pulled back on efforts to reopen businesses.

“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 IMS statement said. “We encourage Hoosiers to continue making smart decisions and following the advice of our public health officials so we can help get Indiana back on track.”

Holcomb issued a statement immediately after the IMS announcement.

“Throughout this unprecedented process, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always prioritized the safety of the fans,” Holcomb said. “I am grateful for Roger Penske’s leadership and his entire team for thoughtfully approaching this decision with transparency and collaboration.”

IMS had already announced that NBC’s broadcast of the 104th race would not be blacked out in central Indiana.

Driver James Hinchcliffe urged fans on Twitter to tune in.

In addition to no fans being permitted at the race, all on-track activity throughout August—including practice and qualifications—will be closed to the general public and instead broadcast through NBC Sports Gold, NBC Sports Network or NBC.

Fans with tickets to this year’s running will be credited for the 2021 race, scheduled for May 30.

Penske Corp., which bought the track, has made a number of investments in the track and its owner, Roger Penske, had been looking forward to showing off those improvements.

“While we were very excited to showcase the investments and enhancements we have made in the guest experience, we know we have reached the right decision,” the IMS statement said. “As much as Roger Penske and everyone associated with the ‘500’ wanted to race with fans this year, we ultimately reached this conclusion in partnership with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis.”

Penske had said in early June the race would only occur with fans in the stands, even if it meant moving it to October.

“Roger Penske and the entire leadership team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have consistently made clear that their highest priority is the safety of Indy 500 fans,” Hogsett said in a written statement. “That has been evident throughout the last several months, as they have consistently lived up to their commitment to collaborative planning and careful consideration of the data.”

Without fans in the stands on race day and in the weeks leading up to the event, it’s likely Indianapolis and central Indiana will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism-related revenue.

Much of that revenue goes to local businesses, including restaurants and hotels, that welcome fans with tickets to the events at IMS. But the race also generates millions in tax dollars for the city and state, most of which will go unrealized without fans at the speedway.

“As a strategic partner we work with year round in planning for the Indy 500, we ultimately understand the thoughtful decision IMS has made to first and foremost protect residents and visitors,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of Visit Indy. “Clearly, there will be short term economic pains by virtue of not being able to welcome the world to Indy, yet it is ultimately the right decision, ensuring generations to come will be able to enjoy the world largest single day sporting event.”

The town of Speedway issued a statement expressing disappointment about the decision.

“Our town thrives year around, but truly comes to life in the month of May,” said David Lindsey, president of Speedway Town Council. “We have all held onto hope that we could see some normalcy in August with fans in the stands, parking cars in our yards, and racing family returning home to Speedway. We have watched the staff and leadership at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway take every precaution possible to get us back on track both literally and metaphorically. They have consistently stayed focused on doing whatever it takes to present the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 to a cheering crowd.”

Unfortunately, town officials said, that is not feasible at this time.

“We know without a doubt that the employees of IMS are just as disappointed as the fans that the race will run on August 23rd in an empty stadium,” said Town Manager Carlos May.

The decision will mean a hit for Speedway businesses as well as local not-for-profits that park cars as fundraisers.

Former Speedway Lions Club President Davina Merrell said in a statement issued by the town that parking has long been the group’s primary fundraiser. “We have volunteers who work in the lots all day to park cars and collect money. This fundraising sustains us throughout the year in providing scholarships to students, event sponsorship, and community support,” she said.

Merrell said the group is working with Run(317) to host a race on Sept. 17 to try to raise some money.

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52 thoughts on “Indy 500 to run without fans in the stands

  1. I will continue to make smart decisions, but it looks like this decision was made for me. Just like all of the other decisions foisted on me and made on my behalf. THANKS

    1. Gosh, Gloria, do you think your feelings should supercede the owner’s decision about how to operate his business?

    2. Gloria – I really don’t care about YOU. I care about the 1000’s of people who will not work the 500 because of your selfishness. I really care about the Veteran’s at Speedway American Legion Post 500 who make enough $$ from race weekend to pay for all of their programs during the year. There are other people in the world besides you.

  2. Not suprising at all. Pushing it out further into October brings with it no guarantee the infection levels will be such that it would be safe for fans. This appears to be the right call. None the less, it will be very strange seeing the 500 without fans, but this has been a year for strange.

    1. Barb, can I come over and watch the race on your 96″ theater screen? I’ll bring snacks.

  3. As I have said to my friends or anyone who would listen; the powers that be will NEVER AGAIN let us see in person, fans in the stands, sports again or at least till after the election.
    Even though the American media won’t cover it, look and see what the Europeans are doing and how they are now reacting. They have awakened and they are finished with it. See: 1 million protestors in downtown Berlin Saturday night.

    1. The protests in Germany were reported by major media outlets in the US and other countries. I assume you know how to use Google? You’re exaggerating more than a little bit by saying there were 1M people protesting in Berlin on 1 night. Stop spreading false information.

  4. If we call it a Protest instead of a sporting event, aren’t we safe from COVID-19 spreading? That’s what Marion County politicians indicated this summer.

    1. Good idea. We can just climb the fences and race up into the turn 4 stands. Police will be Told to stand down. The hypocrisy is insane

    2. And I forgot—and while are enjoying the race we can create an autonomous zone in the infield and freely do whatever we want. Did I already use the word hypocrisy?

  5. Tell Irsay his season is over. If a one day event at 25% of capacity at an outdoor venue that large can’t happen no chance a full season at 25% in an indoor arena can take place. This decision is disappointing but understandable given that only downside press would come from running the race with some fans. At least we have Mitch Daniels who is gonna try to give the college kids an opportunity. Problem solvers in this world are getting harder and harder to find. The economic hardship on millions of Americans continues.

  6. Is IMS management doing this because of increased risked of flying tires (I’ve seen a couple bouncing down pit lane this year) or plans for homemade scaffolding so fans could be physically distanced from each and still see the race? They should also not have the race since driving or pit crewing for IndyCar is actually dangerous …

    1. Obviously you are not an Indy car fan because if you were, you would know that there is a risk in attending the race. I have been to the race several times over the years and yes, it can be dangerous. I accept that as part of going to the event. I also was prepared to accept the risk of Covid 19 when I attended this year, but I am not allowed to think for myself. That decision was made for me.

    2. Gloria, I was being sarcastic–hence mentioning flying tires and the scaffolding that killed fans since those have happened in the past. My children were going to be able to attend their first 500s, since it wasn’t a madhouse, and just had to break the bad news to them.

    3. I am sorry your kids won’t be able to attend. I remember my first Indy 500 back in 1977, the pageantry and all. Hopefully next year will be a better year for everyone.

    4. Eric – your children can’t attend a race. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family during this difficult time.

  7. I’m very surprised that ‘the Captain’ aka Roger Penske has even succumbed to the PC nature of our current alarmist culture we now find ourselves in. Complete control of every facet of our lives is now the motive

    1. So when a conservative does the right thing, it means that The Liberal Conspiracy has gotten to him. Right.

  8. Sheep ….. Don’t question the math or the process just trust Hogset and Holcomb – they know best. Fabulous job with the riots – right? BTW – how many of you know people who tested positive yet never took a test…. how many tested positive for the antibody and got a call from Marion County Health department trying to trace because they said they tested positive for covid “oh we are sorry, you were put in the wrong stack”….uh huh. Sheep

  9. The Indy 500 has never just been a race. It should be cancelled in it’s entirety just like the war years. For the past 51 years I have watched the Indy 500 in person and never in my wildest would of thought that it could go on with on fans. Without fans it just a race, show up on Friday, practice on Saturday, race on Sunday and off to the next bull ring.
    This may have a more adverse effect than the 96′ split and that took almost 20 years for Indy Car to recover.

    Roger shut her down, RACING FANS MATTER.

    1. Steve – it’s just a race to most people. There wasn’t a global pandemic all of the years you went to the race in person. At least you can watch the race on television.

  10. A good decision; thanks to The Captain & Company for doing so. It had to be difficult, what with all the new property investments made this year.

  11. I think they realized it was going to cost them less without fans and are using Covid as an excuse. Good marketing ploy that many people will think they care.

    1. If that were the case, why would they go to the expense of printing new tickets and mailing them out as recently as last week? Penske has the right to make the decision for whatever reason he wants. If it was due to cost, it may have been because fewer than 25% wanted to attend, which probably would have made it cost prohibitive. However, I believe Roger respects the 500 more than any of the “fans” here complaining and made the difficult decision out of concerns for the fans and the community

  12. I don’t understand. I would be wearing a mask and social distancing. I thought we were told those measures were effective? How could this event ever add to the spread ? Something doesn’t add up.

    1. People don’t know how to add 3+3 together and stay 6 feet apart. So that doesn’t add up. People also refuse to wear a mask properly or at all. That doesn’t add up either, but that’s why we can’t have nice things yet

  13. I cannot imagine the financial loss of this decision. It shows to me that Roger Penske and the entire IMS organization cares about the health of you and me before money.

    Please, those with ignorant snarky remarks. What if you just buried your mother, your father, your spouse, your brother, your sister…because of Covid.

    Be safe. Be well. Mask up.

    1. Tony Renna, Scott Brayton, Jovy Marcelo, Lyle Kurtenbach, Gordon Smiley, Tim Vail, Swede Savage, Armando Teran …

      It is time to end racing; put them in simulators where the only danger is a talented driver utters a (very) bad word.

  14. Narrator’s Voice: “May 2021 is not that far away…..” and what will be magically different then?

    Can’t even imagine the financial fall out here. Start with Roger and IMS, basically forfeiting an entire year of ticket sales. Race/Quals/Carb everything. In-venue advertisers, gone. Countless concessions and venders, gone. Parking revenue. Hotel and hospitality revenue for the City. Gone

    1. Penske/IMS can absorb the lost ticket revenue easily. He’ll get a pile of cash for the television rights. The income lost by the city, county and organizations that depend on annual revenue from the 500 will feel the real impact.

  15. The tone of many comments here is exactly why the United States has failed to get a handle on things. Look at your neighbors across the ocean and you will see that they took things seriously and played by the rules. Your whining and conspiracy theories have done nothing but hurt businesses in the state.
    Put your adult clothes on and deal with the pandemic seriously and we can get back to normal.

    1. If by some of the United States, like NY, NJ, Mass, and Conn with extremely high death rates, I agree with you, but something tells me you are trying to blame someone at 1600 Penn in DC. And I don’t think the F1 races across the ocean have fans, especially in places with higher death rates than US.

    2. Why is everything political to some people?
      Never mentioned our President or either party.
      I cited the tone of those who have not taken this pandemic seriously.
      They continue to sow distrust and doubt as to what prudent actions might accomplish.

    3. I apologize Larry C. Please explain what places across the ocean have taken things seriously enough that they can have fans in-person at sporting events, or other events that raise life above a mere biological existence. What might prudent actions accomplish? What are these specific prudent actions? What is being done specifically different here (Indiana, US as a whole?) than being done across the ocean (which ocean, by the way)? Who is not taking it seriously? I believe IMS was taking it seriously, with an 88-page plan, hence why I felt comfortable, both for my family and future others that we would come across at random places like Kroger and Holy Mass, that we would not be unduly putting anyone at risk.

  16. People can fly all over the country sitting 4ft apart, stay in hotels, go to restaurants, stores and all sorts of entertainment venues but can’t go to an outdoor facility that is over 1 mile long and a half mile wide. This is total insanity

    1. Even at 25% capacity, the number of fans would be huge. You can’t compare it to a restaurant or flight. And there would be no way to effectively enforce social distancing or any of the other guidelines. Holding the race at 25% capacity would lead to a huge spike in Covid-19 cases and would make Indianapolis look foolish.

    1. You think that’s bad, how about the stupidity?

      The historians will write that America went down the drain because a large chunk of the populace was so poorly informed.

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