Roger Penske can’t move mountains or make it stop raining or cure the pandemic that’s crippled the day-to-day normalcy of America. However, with a little bit of assistance from the health gods and government, The Captain can control the destiny of the 104th Indianapolis 500 and he’s making a guarantee to fans whether the race runs Aug. 23 as scheduled or has to be moved back to October.
“Trust me, we are going to run it (Indianapolis 500) with fans,” the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series told RACER on Saturday night prior to the season opener at Texas. “We’re on for fans in August and planning on it and we feel good. It’s still almost three months from now and I think we’ll be OK. But we will run it only with fans.”
The immediate reaction from the fans after last week’s announcement they would not be allowed to attend the first IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader and Brickyard 400 on July 4-5 at IMS was a little bit of ire followed by quite a bit of speculation that Indy would follow suit. But we all know nobody loves Indy more than R.P. and he claims that decision was all about doing what’s best for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“Look, we had a plan to go forward with fans on Brickyard weekend but it just didn’t make sense,” he continued. “We didn’t want to do anything to impair the Indy 500 and we would have had to be the exception but we decided we couldn’t go early.
“If we had fans and had any problems, that would absolutely close the door for us on Indianapolis.”
Penske was asked if he got pressure from local and federal government to keep spectators out.
“No, we made the decision,” he responded. “Our team had several meetings leading up to last week and Mark (Miles) and I called the governor and the mayor and said based on the current situation, now is not the time. It wasn’t a forced decision by anyone, just what we think was the right decision all things considered.”
In the meantime, The Captain continues to come to Indy twice a week and oversee the myriad of changes he’s already made to the most iconic racetrack in the world. Between new video boards, paved parking lots, upgraded restrooms and concession stands and widening Georgetown Road behind the main grandstands, not a blade of grass is out of place.
“We’re doing everything we can and I hope everyone realizes how far we’ve come,” said the 83-year-old dynamo. “We’ve got ’til the end of August and that’s plenty of time. I think our fans are going to like what they see.”
Seeing the IMS gates open will be a good start.