Reports: Texas says it won’t run IndyCar opener without fans

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Texas Motor Speedway is slated to open the NTT IndyCar Series’ revised 2020 season on Saturday, June 6, but the race apparently is in jeopardy if fans can’t attend.

Track president Eddie Gossage told multiple media outlets that the track would refrain from playing host to the IndyCar opener without a crowd.

“At some point we have to make a decision, but it’s not time yet,” Gossage told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Drew Davison in a story posted Thursday. “We wouldn’t consider running Indy cars without fans in the stands.”

Gossage told Motorsport.com’s David Malsher-Lopez in a Wednesday post that the track was “anticipating the race as planned … but we wouldn’t have any interest in holding an event without fans in attendance.

“The reason it is a consideration for NASCAR promoters is that the promoter receives 65 percent of the sizable TV rights fee. In IndyCar, the promoter does not receive any television rights fees. That is a basic issue that causes IndyCar, even in its best days, to not be nearly as desirable to a promoter and why you will always see a turnover in the events and schedule for IndyCar.”

IndyCar officials had no comment on the reports or whether the series had discussed holding races without fans. There have been three revisions to its 2020 schedule (the most recent coming Monday) since the onset of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

NASCAR has yet to announce a revised schedule for 2020, but president Steve Phelps said racing without fans would be considered upon its return. “Would we consider racing without fans at some point to get back racing more quickly? That’s in the consideration set,” Phelps told reporters March 17. “We’ll work with our health officials and we’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.”

During Tuesday’s “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN, three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin told host Mike Tirico that he thought NASCAR likely would return without fans, possibly as early as the Coca-Cola 600 weekend on May 24.

“Generally speaking, I think we would be one of the earliest sports back because there’s no contact within our sport,” Hamlin said. “Going back without fans, I think it’s probably going to be part of the realistic future in my opinion.”

Before the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was postponed, IndyCar originally had intended to run the March 15 season opener without fans. NASCAR also had planned to run races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway with empty grandstands before postponing the events.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).