STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Penske reverses course, closes Indianapolis 500 to fans

Roger Penske has reversed course and decided not to allow fans at the Indianapolis 500 later this month. The 104th running of “The Great American Race” will be the first without spectators, who showed up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year, even during the Great Depression.

Posted: Aug 4, 2020 12:27 PM
Updated: Aug 4, 2020 3:17 PM

Roger Penske has reversed course and decided not to allow fans at the Indianapolis 500 later this month. The 104th running of “The Great American Race” will be the first without spectators, who showed up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year, even during the Great Depression.

It was a flip for Penske, who purchased the iconic speedway in January and has spent every day since upgrading his new showplace to prepare for his favorite race. The pandemic forced the race to change dates for the first time, from Memorial Day weekend to Aug. 23.

STATEMENT FROM INDIANA GOVERNOR ERIC HOLCOMB 

“Throughout this unprecedented process, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always prioritized the safety of the fans. I am grateful for Roger Penske’s leadership and his entire team for thoughtfully approaching this decision with transparency and collaboration. I want to encourage Hoosiers to continue to social distance, wear masks and take precautions so we can continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 and hear the roar of the engines at the track next May.”

Penske had initially said he wouldn’t run the 500 without fans. But as the pandemic continued to spread across the nation, the decision was made to limit capacity to 50%. The speedway then lowered that number to 25% and presented an 88-page manual on how to safely host spectators.

Cases have continued to rise — steadily in Indiana and specifically in Marion County, where the speedway is located — and Penske told The Associated Press on Tuesday the reversal on the spectator policy was “the toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

“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 said in a telephone interview.

He said the financial ramifications of not hosting spectators — which even at 25% capacity, the mammoth facility could have held about 80,000 people — played no part in his decision. Rather, the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Marion County made shutting out spectators the responsible decision.

“We need to be safe and smart about this,” Penske said. “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.”

As part of the plan introduced two weeks ago for 25% of fan capacity, spectators who had purchased badges that granted them access to the garage and pit lane was going to be permitted, as well as infield access. Although the speedway, which can hold at least 350,000 spectators, has the space for social distancing, Penske did not want to put fans or competitors at risk.

The situation was compounded last week when IU Health, the state’s largest health care system and a partner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said it opposed fans attending the 500.

“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.”

The letter blindsided speedway officials, who had worked with health officials on the comprehensive safety plan that included mandatory wearing of masks at all times inside the speedway.

IU Health said it “appreciates” the speedway’s safety plan, but risks remained too high to host a large cluster of fans.

“We have concerns about the risks of infection beyond the scope of the IMS plan, including social gatherings, travel, restaurants, bars, accommodations and other event-related activities,” IU Health said. “This could lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections as we continue to see cases and hospitalizations increase every day.”

Penske said the IU Health letter was “disappointing” but did not force his hand. Instead, it simply came down to metrics of how the coronavirus is spreading through Indiana.

“The number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled. 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 speedway said in a statement.

The first inkling that Penske’s group was waffling came Monday when the speedway confirmed to the AP that the opening day of practice scheduled for next Tuesday had been scrapped. The first day of practice will now be Aug. 12. The only other change to the schedule right now is the elimination of the Pit Crew Competition traditionally held on Carb Day, two days before the race.

The pandemic has obliterated the IndyCar schedule, with the series shutting down just two days before its May 15 scheduled season-opener. The schedule has undergone numerous alterations since, with a West Coast swing to Portland and Laguna Seca canceled last week and doubleheaders added to Mid-Ohio, Gateway in St. Louis and the road course at Indianapolis.

Then, days after announcing the latest schedule updates, the Mid-Ohio events scheduled for this coming weekend were postponed. IndyCar has run just six events since the season resumed June 6. Limited spectators have been allowed at doubleheaders at Road America in Wisconsin and at Iowa Speedway, where Penske had to be the race promoter for the event to be held.

Penske, just the fourth owner of national landmark IMS, has spent roughly $15 million on renovations to the historic property that he eagerly awaited showcasing for fans. His doubleheader weekend with IndyCar and NASCAR in July was held without fans and access to the property was limited to the competitors inside the facility.

He said “the place looks even 50% percent better than it did in July” and takes solace that the IndyCar paddock will be able to get a closer look at the upgrades when the track opens next week. As for fans?

“Look, this is a long-term investment for us for many generations to come,” he said. “We will continue to improve the speedway, the competitors will get to see it over the next two weeks and we believe this decision now regarding the 500 is in the best interest of protecting the 500 for the future.”

Terre Haute
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 91°
Robinson
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 91°
Indianapolis
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 88°
Rockville
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 86°
Casey
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 82°
Brazil
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 91°
Marshall
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 91°
Heat Advisory This Afternoon
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1415572

Reported Deaths: 25853
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook56308410559
DuPage937531321
Will781251042
Lake692061027
Kane60105816
Winnebago34719524
Madison32433533
St. Clair30073526
McHenry29590299
Peoria23726346
Champaign21601158
Sangamon19672245
McLean18864194
Tazewell17508308
Rock Island15398329
Kankakee14754224
Kendall1349999
LaSalle12968254
Macon11193215
DeKalb10286122
Vermilion10247154
Adams9635128
Williamson8165138
Whiteside7249174
Boone694280
Ogle629884
Grundy605879
Clinton591993
Coles5872101
Knox5735157
Jackson546465
Henry516070
Macoupin498790
Livingston494394
Woodford492683
Stephenson488186
Franklin487879
Effingham483274
Marion4782118
Jefferson4668123
Monroe452394
Randolph432587
Lee424054
Morgan413793
Fulton410959
Logan407366
Christian394875
Bureau386187
Montgomery385274
Iroquois330168
Perry328662
Fayette326856
McDonough305751
Jersey279552
Saline272057
Douglas263736
Union250241
Lawrence245027
Shelby236138
Crawford219026
Bond213624
Cass210727
Carroll204937
Pike201453
Ford194950
Hancock194132
Clark190734
Wayne190153
Warren186750
Jo Daviess183524
Richland181740
White180626
Edgar179842
Washington169625
Moultrie168128
Mason164247
De Witt161429
Piatt156314
Johnson155416
Clay155043
Greene153534
Mercer152434
Wabash148612
Massac143740
Cumberland131119
Menard128412
Jasper116918
Marshall110819
Hamilton90316
Schuyler8147
Brown8116
Pulaski7437
Stark66425
Edwards63612
Calhoun5422
Henderson53414
Gallatin5064
Scott5051
Putnam4943
Alexander48911
Hardin39612
Pope3404
Unassigned662433
Out of IL150

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429