No fans, no Indy 500? IndyCar drivers react to no crowd for biggest race

No fans no Indy 500
Chris Jones/IndyCar
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Graham Rahal says he’s heard the refrain of “no fans, no Indy 500,” and he can relate to it because “I was one of those guys.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, though, believes the long-term viability of the NTT IndyCar Series should outweigh the longstanding traditions of a race that will hold its 104th running Aug. 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without a crowd for the first time in Indy 500 history.

“It is critical to the life of our series, to the life of our organizations, to the jobs that this series and racing provides to thousands of individuals,” Rahal said Tuesday during a two-part Twitter video reacting to the news that the Brickyard will be closed to the general public this month. “To the cottage industries in Indianapolis that rely on IndyCar racing, and without IndyCar racing and all sorts of those things, those cottage industries might disappear.

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“This race is important. This race is the biggest thing each and every year. Without this, I really don’t know if the series goes on in the same manner. I don’t know if a lot of the teams survive without the Indy 500 as we go into the winter. And I know there’s a lot of you, I’ve seen it on Twitter, who don’t care. Who’d rather see us out of business than see us have this race without fans. But it is critical that we go forward. I hope that you guys can understand that, support that.”

Rahal said he had expected that the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would happen in front of at least a limited crowd of 25 percent capacity.

“Clearly at this time, it’s critical that we take care of each other,” he said. “That we do what’s in the best interests of human health. At the same time, it is critical that we as a sport have the Indy 500. I know that is hard for some people to contemplate.”

In an A.J. Foyt Racing release, team owner and four-time Indy 500 winner Foyt said, “I’ve seen a lot of changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but I never thought I’d see the race run without fans. I know it had to be a really tough decision to make, and it was the right one for this time. I’ll miss seeing the fans because I think I have a lot of fans in Indy and they were the reason I kept coming back here when I got hurt. It’s a real shame that they can’t be here this year but I think they will be here in spirit.”

Said 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who is running a partial schedule this season that includes Indy: “I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I think deep inside we always race the majority of the times because of the fans. They’re the ones — especially for me at Indy —they’re the most important thing. Obviously, we had to make a decision and I think it’s the safest one, but it’s sad. It’s just so sad. The whole world is sad right now. But we’ll get through it.

“Hopefully, everyone will be watching the Indy 500 on TV and cheering as loudly as they would at the race track. But that makes me wonder: I don’t think this should be my last Indy 500.”

Several other IndyCar drivers also reacted to the news on social media, expressing regrets about racing before empty grandstands while also supporting the move by track owner Roger Penske.

Here’s a roundup of their thoughts, starting with the top two finishers in last year’s Indy 500:

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list