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
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 25°
Robinson
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 23°
Indianapolis
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 26°
Rockville
Overcast
32° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 22°
Casey
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 22°
Brazil
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 25°
Marshall
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 25°
Cloudy, chance of evening showers.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Monday: Rain/snow mix, windy, chilly. High: 36°

Image

Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

Scam Alert: Fake vaccine trials

Image

Bridgeton Country Christmas continues

Image

Safety rules in place at local tree farm

Image

Police search for attempted armed robber

Image

$5,000 grant supports trail project

Image

Winter Precipitation Explainer

Image

Pretty holiday lights to brighten your spirit

Image

JOEY SHEW SIGNS WITH ISU

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

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

Cases: 720114

Reported Deaths: 12882
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook3042206595
DuPage45087788
Will38684563
Lake37299631
Kane31767467
Winnebago18948262
Madison14379255
McHenry14269156
St. Clair13410259
Champaign1079858
Sangamon1015799
Peoria9147133
Kankakee8636103
Rock Island8612135
McLean848954
Tazewell6835104
Macon6517132
Kendall626947
LaSalle6108134
DeKalb499047
Adams473548
Vermilion391551
Boone390733
Whiteside3743115
Williamson361083
Clinton330861
Coles329859
Ogle285037
Knox280766
Grundy277618
Effingham277021
Henry270015
Jackson268536
Marion248551
Stephenson246635
Randolph226826
Livingston224527
Macoupin223218
Morgan220936
Bureau211643
Monroe207545
Franklin204825
Lee201034
Christian189443
Jefferson187859
Woodford175827
Fayette170931
Logan170113
Iroquois169326
McDonough158241
Fulton146012
Shelby137426
Douglas135416
Jersey127224
Union118228
Montgomery115519
Crawford112213
Saline111625
Perry110223
Warren109020
Jo Daviess107617
Carroll107024
Lawrence107011
Bond104810
Pike101427
Cass96423
Hancock95612
Wayne90833
Moultrie89810
Clay84020
Greene82831
Edgar80815
Clark79820
Piatt7835
Richland78019
Ford75222
Mercer74510
Mason72120
Johnson7136
Washington7002
Jasper64411
Cumberland61416
White6148
De Witt61317
Massac5993
Wabash5708
Menard4661
Pulaski4132
Marshall4066
Hamilton3873
Brown3224
Henderson2891
Schuyler2711
Stark2683
Alexander2562
Calhoun2470
Putnam2430
Scott2310
Edwards2263
Gallatin1913
Unassigned1850
Hardin1551
Pope1011
Out of IL100

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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

Cases: 333312

Reported Deaths: 5685
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion45371865
Lake28722469
Allen19325304
Elkhart17945235
St. Joseph17599237
Hamilton14061171
Vanderburgh10280127
Tippecanoe920230
Porter873389
Johnson6973170
Hendricks6674158
Vigo637392
Monroe560850
Madison5410122
Clark540478
Delaware5184103
LaPorte492897
Kosciusko480741
Howard379478
Bartholomew347365
Warrick343073
Wayne340985
Floyd334978
Marshall317946
Cass307931
Grant295450
Hancock286957
Noble269347
Henry262837
Boone261955
Dubois249632
Dearborn238231
Jackson235534
Morgan228743
Gibson201229
Shelby199859
Knox196621
DeKalb190234
Clinton189222
Lawrence187949
Wabash181122
Miami176817
Adams176223
Daviess165845
Fayette157634
Steuben156415
Jasper155913
Montgomery154629
Harrison154124
Ripley151521
LaGrange150631
Whitley146815
Huntington140210
Decatur137144
Putnam134828
White134823
Wells134630
Clay132724
Randolph132622
Jefferson131316
Posey127718
Scott118921
Greene109053
Sullivan105016
Jay104414
Jennings97814
Starke96624
Spencer9078
Fulton88619
Perry86421
Fountain8608
Washington8387
Franklin75727
Carroll73713
Orange71828
Vermillion6867
Owen6598
Tipton62727
Parke6226
Rush5918
Newton58812
Blackford57312
Pike54020
Pulaski44215
Benton3843
Martin3826
Brown3705
Crawford3221
Union2862
Switzerland2725
Warren2653
Ohio2437
Unassigned0267