Indy 500 will have no fans in attendance for the Aug. 23 race

Indy 500 no fans
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

The Indy 500 will be run with no fans Aug. 23 as Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced its grandstands will be closed for the 104th running of the signature race.

The track released a statement with the update Tuesday, two weeks after laying out a plan to have a limited crowd for the Indianapolis 500. IMS initially announced June 26 that the Indy 500 (which will be shown at 1 p.m. ET on NBC) would have a 50 percent capacity crowd.

All on-track activity during August, including practice (which will begin Wednesday, Aug. 12) and qualifying, instead will be closed to the general public. The rest of the August schedule will happen as planned, though the Associated Press reported the pit stop competition on Carb Day has been canceled. Practice and qualifying will be covered fully via NBC Sports Gold, NBCSN and NBC.

DAILY SCHEDULE: Click here for all on-track activity in August at Indy

INDYCAR ON NBC: Viewing schedule for the rest of the season

“This tough decision was made following careful consideration and extensive consultation with state and city leadership,” a track release said Tuesday. “As dedicated as we were to running the race this year with 25 percent attendance at our large outdoor facility, even with meaningful and careful precautions implemented by the city and state, the COVID-19 trends in Marion County and Indiana have worsened. Since our June 26 announcement, 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. We encourage Hoosiers to continue making smart decisions and following the advice of our public health officials so we can help get Indiana back on track.”

Fans with tickets to this year’s Indy 500 will receive credit for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 and will retain their seniority and their originally assigned seats.

The news comes three days after the NTT IndyCar Series postponed its race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to September or October because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar added races last week at Mid-Ohio, World Wide Technology at Gateway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course because its Portland and Laguna Seca rounds were canceled.

The pandemic has made for a tumultuous year for IndyCar (which was forced to delay its season opener to June 6) and at IMS, which was purchased (along with the IndyCar Series) by Roger Penske last year.

The iconic team owner has spent the year spending millions to put special touches on the speedway that he has idolized since his Midwestern childhood. But Penske hardly has had the chance to showcase the upgrades without being allowed to open the grandstands of the 2.5-mile track this year.

Penske initially said the race wouldn’t be held unless there was a crowd. He told the Associated Press in a Tuesday interview that choosing to race without fans was “the toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Indy 500 no fans
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, shown during an aeroscreen test last October, will hold the Indy 500 for the first time without fans Aug. 23 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“Penske Corporation made a long-term investment to be the steward of this legendary facility,” IMS said in the statement. “While we were very excited to showcase the investments and enhancements we have made in the guest experience, we know we have reached the right decision. As much as Roger Penske and everyone associated with the 500 wanted to race with fans this year, we ultimately reached this conclusion in partnership with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis.

“Our commitment to the Speedway is unwavering and we will continue to invest in the Racing Capital of the World. We encourage everyone to watch this year’s race on NBC and we look forward to welcoming our loyal fans back to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 30th of 2021.”

After the Indy 500 was postponed March 26 for the first time to Aug. 23, the track played host to an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader race weekend without fans July 4-5. There was optimism building, though, that limited crowds would be allowed this month at the Brickyard. Instead, it will be the first time in a century-plus of history that its mammoth grandstands will be empty for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway had released new Indy 500 fan guidelines July 21 that included 25 percent attendance for the race and mandatory face coverings for all attendees at the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The following day, the speedway released a nearly 100-page health plan with protocols for the race. While the updated plan eliminated the 500 Festival Parade downtown and Legends Day at the speedway, IMS president Doug Boles said the track would allow fans for practice and qualifying sessions.

In late June, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials had said they were surveying fans and expected a crowd limited to 50 percent of capacity.

The Indy 500 sold out its centennial race in 2016 and has drawn crowds of roughly 300,000 annually. In a Coffee With Kyle sitdown Jan. 31, Penske told Kyle Petty that Indianapolis Motor Speedway had 230,000 seats, and that 78 percent of its ticket allotment had been sold by then, including all of the track’s suites.

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.