In a shocking but understandable head slap of reality, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 purse has been cut in half.
Roger Penske told the car owners earlier this week that instead of $15 million, the Aug. 23 payout would be $7.5 million in the face of the pandemic that has crippled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s ability to make any money. With no fans allowed, there are no ticket sales and that alone takes away a minimum of $20m.
Penske, who purchased IMS and the IndyCar series last January, had previously announced he was adding two million for this year’s race to increase the purse from $13 million to $15m before the COVID-19 virus started shutting down businesses and wrecking the economy. Since then, the winningest owner in IMS history has spent $15 million refurbishing IMS and several million more to put on races at Road America and Iowa, where IndyCar was co-promoter of the doubleheaders.
And, with the Speedway not getting tens of millions of dollars, the purse was a natural victim. But none of the owners blinked.
“Roger has put his heart and soul into everything and he’s making it good and making it work,” said Chip Ganassi, who has supplied R.P. with his stiffest competition for the past 25 years. “I’m not worried about the purse — sure we’d like to have more money, but this isn’t about one year and he’s doing all he can.
“This is a different Roger. He started the meeting off by saying, ‘Hey guys, I bought this place and was looking at the next pit stop and suddenly we hit the wall.’ But he’s in it for the long haul and I’m a big supporter of what he’s doing.”
“It’s obviously not exciting news but we’re all in this together and everyone is appreciative of the job Roger is doing,” said Ed Carpenter, one of IndyCar’s little guys who is fielding three cars at the place he runs so well at every year. “I wasn’t surprised because Roger, Mark (Miles) and Jay (Frye) have shared information above and beyond what they have to share and I think we all have a sense of gratitude for what Roger has done.
“We could be in a much worse situation than we are and instead of bitching about the prize money, I think we’re thankful to have the opportunity to compete. It’s still pretty damn big money but if the only way to win was not make a penny I’d do that every day of the week. The Indy money is great but that’s not what I race there for and nobody becomes a team owner to become a billionaire.”
Friday was a good day for the three-time Indy polesitter as the U.S. Space Force became his primary sponsor for Indy and joins the backing of Conor Daly with the U.S. Air Force and rookie Rinus Veekay has Jumbo Foods.
“Having fans there would be great for our sponsors but it can be about awareness as much as activation and I think we can accomplish the mission we have with them,” continued Carpenter. “I’m not going to say no to a pole but that’s not why I’m there and I want to be there on Aug 23.”
The 39-year-old veteran, who led the most laps in 2017 before finishing second, couldn’t contain his admiration for how The Captain is running the ship.
“I think if I’ve learned anything in 2020 it’s that you can’t be surprised because it’s the most challenging, bizarre and difficult year any of us have experienced. He’s making the best of a bad situation and it was clear to us he doesn’t take decisions like this one (purse) lightly. He’s trying to make sure we have a future — that’s priority No. 1 right now, and there is no perfect way of dealing with this. But he’s provided a level of leadership we’re all very thankful for.”
This story has been updated to correct the new purse for the race as $7.5 million -Ed.