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The 104th running of the Indy 500 was set to be new owner Roger Penske’s lifelong dream come true. Sadly, a virus that’s now responsible for killing over a half-million people around the world has had the last laugh, and the 2020 Indy 500 will ultimately be held without spectators.
When 2019 was coming to a close and news broke of Penske’s move to buy the iconic oval along with the IndyCar series, everyone expected the 2020 Indy 500 to be one of the biggest, the best, and quite possibly the most impeccably-coordinated 500 in ages. After all, the Captain doesn’t like things half-assed.
However, once the coronavirus landed in America, it became clear that stuffing over 350,000 people (if not more) in what’s essentially a huge cereal bowl would not be feasible. So the decision was made to limit capacity to only 50 percent, and eventually, 25 percent.
Today, it’s been confirmed that for the first time since 1911, the world-famous 500-mile race will not have any spectators on its many grandstands.
“What I hope people recognize is that we’ve done everything possible to be able to do it with fans,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Mark Miles told IndyStar. “This plan will go down as the model for how to do a mass gathering under these circumstances if it were possible.
“We’ve said all along that we had to hang in there and see if the public health situation would allow us to do it, and we’re at least as disappointed as all the fans that we can’t have them there this year.”
According to a report by WISH-TV, the financial ramifications of hosting the world’s largest sporting event (in terms of fans) at only 25 percent capacity were not the biggest motivating factor for pulling the plug. Rather, it was the fact that even at a lower capacity, over 80,000 would’ve still made their way to the grounds in the middle of what’s still considered a pandemic in the United States.
“We didn’t buy the Speedway for one year, we bought it for generations to come, and it’s important to our reputation to do the right thing,” Penske told WISH-TV.
“We need to be safe and smart about this,” Penske added. “Obviously we want full attendance, but we don’t want to jeopardize the health and safety of our fans and the community. We also don’t want to jeopardize the ability to hold a successful race.”
Perhaps the final blow to Penske’s plans arrived last week, when the track’s official health provider, IU Health, who even has its own on-track hospital to help fans in the case of emergencies, sent a strong-worded letter to track officials.
“Until we sustain better control of this virus and its spread,” IU Health said in a statement, “we strongly encourage IMS to consider an alternative to running the Indy 500 with fans in August.”
Whether this put the final nail in the 2020 Indy 500 coffin, we will most likely never know. But one thing is certain: it didn’t help.
As an Indy resident, avid racing fan, and journalist who planned on skipping what would’ve been his 10th Indy 500, this isn’t exactly good news. On one hand, I want to see the race take place with fans on the stands, but I care most about the health of my community, and obviously, my own family.
In the end, no one wins, although someone will still drink the milk come Aug. 23.
Better luck next year.