In the two-week period after the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was canceled March 13, NTT IndyCar Series teams returned home and tried to navigate through an uncertain future.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put sports on hold as the world grapples with this ugly virus.
Teams sent their employees home, continuing to pay them. Engineers still were able to work on projects on their computers at home. The shops were deep-cleaned and then cleaned again.
IndyCar officials remained in contact with management from each team to assess the situation.
For the most part, however, all they could do was wait for further direction.
That direction came last Thursday when IndyCar announced a revised schedule.
The cornerstone event, the 104th Indianapolis 500, has been moved from May 24 to Aug. 23 with the hope that the virus will be contained by then. The season is scheduled to begin May 30-31 with a doubleheader weekend at Detroit. After that, the pace will be fairly relentless with IndyCar racing nearly every weekend.
At least now, IndyCar teams have a sense of direction and what to plan for during the next two months without racing.
“I think we have all been waiting for some solid answers and some solid direction,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull (pictured above) told NBCSports.com. “What was announced is very, very positive for race fans, for our partners and all of the teams and IndyCar racing. We’re all in this together. We’re all in the same boat, and all want to participate in racing.
“The tone of the conversation in the owners’ group was really, really positive. It gave everybody the feeling that (IndyCar CEO) Mark Miles and (IndyCar president) Jay Frye and (IndyCar owner Roger Penske) are well behind getting this thing off the ground when it re-engages, and that is very important.
“Hopefully, we are going to be able to start the season at Detroit. That depends on where we are going to be in the United States with where the virus is at that point, that is a critical element moving forward.
“We have a direction, we can move in that direction, we can work in that direction and that is what we are going to try to do.”
Chip Ganassi Racing is based in Indianapolis. When Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued a “Stay at Home” order last week, it sent a message to Hoosiers statewide that the only way to contain COVID-19 is to stay in isolation.
Only essential businesses are allowed to open.
The sooner people take these orders and listen to their instructions, the more time there is to bring things under control.
“That comes down to personal integrity and realization,” Hull said. “If you work in a location where you have to go to work, if you work in a hospital, pharmacy or grocery store, anywhere where people depend on you, I get it. Otherwise, anybody who is out in public now that doesn’t need to be, I don’t get it, either.
“The good thing about the United States is it had time to study what happened in other countries and some of the things they have enacted here will help slow down the virus.”
Meantime, Hull has faith in the recent stimulus package that was signed into law last Friday can help keep teams and other businesses solvent. The package includes funding for small businesses.
“Hopefully, the bills that have been passed by the President and the Senate and the House of Representatives will do something similar, that helps with small businesses to help with the shortfall,” Hull said. “In the short term, that is wonderful. Race teams fall into the small business category, and that is a good thing. I’m sure some race teams will take benefit of that.
“Here’s what we do as a race team – we race cars. When we chose this profession, when we chose to race cars, all of us are from different generations. Generationally, we look at things in a different way. But we all signed up to race cars. I don’t like some of the things we have to do to keep our people engaged all of the time. But we will do everything we can to keep them fresh, keep the cars fresh. We are lucky we have a great building to work in, have great partners. We will be home between the races.
“I hope the stimulus package will help places like St. Elmo’s (Indianapolis’ landmark steakhouse that has been in existence since 1902), that have a lot of history. They have a way to stay in business now. ”
According to Hull, there has already been significant change at the team’s impressive race shop in Pike Township on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
“We’ve been changing what we have been doing, even in our building the last couple of weeks,” Hull said. “We changed plans and closed down even when we didn’t think we would be closing down. We looked at the significance of putting people together in a building.
“What is more important is having everybody whole when we can come back to work. That is more important. Ninety percent of the people in every race building is a Type-A personality. If they abide by the rules and called them today to come back to work, they would be in there. But it’s not the right thing to do.
“By the time we do come back to work, they are going to be so energized, we don’t need to worry about back-to-back races.”
By potentially reviving the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as the season-finale in October, Hull praised IndyCar owner Roger Penske and his senior management at IndyCar.
“That intervention is going to pay large dividends for IndyCar racing going forward, and this is a good example of that,” Hull said. “Never give up. Find an alternative way to do it and get everybody engaged in the process to make it successful. That is what goes on now in that office.
“We know we are going to have at least 14 races on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and we are going to get to race Indy cars. We will race longer into the year than we normally do to achieve what we want to achieve, but we will get to do it.”
By the time things return to a sense of normalcy, the world will have changed. Hull is extremely aware of that. He believes its best to prepare for when that world returns to work and learn from what got us here.
“This is a major, major case study for change,” Hull said. “We should never forget what we just learned. Going forward, the experience we are all going through is not only impacting our lives today but will also impact us our entire life. I think we will approach some of the things we do in a completely different manner than we ever have before because we will have time to reflect on it and we are living it.
“At Chip Ganassi Racing, we are doing everything to make sure we come back to work the right way at the right time. You don’t need government intervention to do that; you just need common sense.
“All in all, it will be all right.