Roger Penske unveils record Indy 500 purse, improvements to speedway

Karl Zemlin/IndyCar

A series of new plans to boost both the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway were unveiled during a press conference at the historic facility Friday afternoon.

The changes are the first to be announced since Roger Penske officially took control of the speedway and NTT IndyCar Series in January.

“This is the Racing Capital of the World,” Penske said. “It is on par with some of the most historic sporting institutions in this nation and across the globe, from Churchill Downs to Augusta National. Today, we’re announcing a meaningful investment in our fan experience that will produce rapid results. It’s part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the Speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come.

“I am very excited about the enhancements to qualifying weekend, the largest-ever ‘500’ purse, new sponsors and the significant investments we are making to the IndyCar Series and to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

The changes include:

A record purse: The event purse for the 104th running of the Indy 500 will be the largest in the history of the event. The purse will grow by $2 million to $15 million, with the winning driver guaranteed a minimum of  $2 million.

Multiple qualifying attempts will return to the Last Row Shootout: The shootout will expand from 60 to 75 minutes. Previous versions of the shootout allowed only one attempt per car. The new format gives teams another opportunity to qualify for the race while preserving the tradition of Bump Day.

“Listening to the fans and looking at the information that flowed to my desk, the fans here, the history here is having a bump day,” Penske said. “I think that that will take place at this year’s Indy 500.”

A boost in turbocharger power: The 45 horsepower increase will allow for higher speeds during Indy 500 qualifying.

Expanded television coverage of qualifying: NBC will cover both Saturday and Sunday of qualifications weekend, with total network exposure increasing over 2019. Full weekend broadcast details will be unveiled at a later date.

New Sponsors: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar Series will add six new major sponsors in 2020: Pennzoil, Verizon, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging, Road & Track magazine, and Global Medical Response.

Technology Upgrades: Over 30 new large-screen video boards will be installed on the grounds of the speedway, including 24 along the paddock seating. All seven of the large infield big screen monitors will also include additions to display the race running order.

Another new addition is the IMS Media Wall. This video board will be 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall and will be displayed at the base of the Pagoda facing the Pagoda Plazza. The wall will display data-driven race insights from NTT for fans.

Additionally, Verizon will expand it’s 5G Ultra Wideband network to make IMS the first motorsports facility with commerical 5G service.

Infrastructure improvements: The 110-year-old facility will receive several upgrades to improve the fan experience. Pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road will be widened by two lanes to allow easier ingress and egress.

The winning drivers and teams of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 will also be elevated to the same level as the victory podium after each race. This will give fans a better vantage point for pictures.

Additionally, more than 125 restrooms will be renovated inside the facility and over three miles of fencing will be installed.

Beautification upgrades:  Night light signage will be installed over gates 1 and 2, while over 50 concession stands will receive fresh paint. More picnic tables and racing flags will also be installed throughout the grounds.

All aspects of the fan aspect improvements are underway and will be completed before the IMS gates open for the month of May on May 8. The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, 24 and will air live on NBC.

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Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.