Despite all the best laid plans of Roger Penske & Company, the 104th Indianapolis 500 will run without fans on Aug. 23.
After re-issuing tickets and relocating people to accommodate the social distancing rules for the COVID-19 virus, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to the conclusion that the latest virus numbers in Marion County had made it necessary to stage the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with empty grandstands.
“[Since] June 26 when we announced our plan to allow 50 percent occupancy, the number of positive tests in Marion County has tripled,” said Penske Entertainment president Mark Miles. “And there is also an important metric called percent positive test, and that was below five percent on June 26, and it went up to 12.
“It’s a tough day, but the Speedway has always been a good citizen, and we’ve got to care about our fans’ health.”
While the decision included consultation from city and state authorities, Miles said that the call was made by the Speedway itself.
“Nobody called and said ‘You can’t do this,'” he said. “It was up to the city to approve a plan and let us go, and they did approve our plan. But they said it was also subject to the monitoring of the health situation, and we said if it wasn’t right we wouldn’t do it.”
Penske had previously insisted on RACER.com that Indy would not run without fans, but Miles said that postponing the race to October, when a road course event is already on the books, was not an option.
“We knew for sometime it wasn’t going to be in October,” he said. “We talked with our media partner (NBC) and they just can’t find five hours on NBC then, and there’s no public confidence October is going to be better than August. We all hope it will be, but nobody knows.
“We’ll have three NBC shows (two qualifying days and the race), and it will be different without fans, but just about everything is different right now so we’ll make the best of it.”
IMS had recently reduced the seating capacity for the 500 from 50 to 25 percent, and Speedway president Doug Boles said the anticipated crowd was looking to be around 70,000. IMS will be sending out emails immediately to direct fans on how to get credit for the 2021 race.
And at least one former winner said this news will make him return in 2021.
“I told Mark (Miles) last week that if they had the race without fans, then I was coming back for sure,” said Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy victor whose Last Lap tour won’t end with IMS and Gateway. “I hate it for the fans but what can we do? It’s just a tough deal.”