Roger Penske struck a bullish tone about the crowd for the 105th running of the Indy 500, noting more than 170,000 tickets were sold for the May 30 race.
“We’re not making any predictions at all because anything I would say today could be completely wrong,” Penske, the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway since last year, said in a Zoom news conference Monday. “Our goal is to have 250,000 (roughly full capacity for the speedway). That’s what we want to have. It’s outside. We’ve got the biggest stadium in the world here and it’s a matter of where we’re going to be with the CDC and the governor and the mayor, so I don’t have any number that I’d want to hang my hat on.
“It just shows you the interest in the race and we’ve got a lot of people that are waiting, and we have our (general admission) and what else we normally do on that weekend, but I think the good news is we’re going to have the race and it will be limited or be open based on what the current numbers are.”
Last year, the Indianapolis 500 was delayed three months to Aug. 23 with plans originally for a limited crowd. But because of local and state health concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the decision was made to hold the race without fans.
In a prerace letter, Penske told fans he would miss being their host in his first year as the owner of IMS and vowed they would return in 2021. Last October, the Brickyard’s road course was permitted to accommodate 10,000 fans for a doubleheader race weekend.
Penske said a decision on the Indy 500 crowd would be made “in conjunction with the governor and the mayor.” He said the Kentucky Derby to be at 50 percent capacity, “so I think the numbers are getting much better and certainly going in our favor. Our goal is to hopefully be able to have some indication as we get into April. As we sit here today, we’ve got over 170,000 tickets that have already been taken, so we’re in good shape.”
With millions of vaccinations being administered daily in the United States, hopes are high that there could be at least a six-figure crowd at Indy this year.
Penske said he was encouraged that the positivity rate for COVID-19 for Marion County (home to Indianapolis Motor Speedway) was 3.1 percent.
“It’s way down and I think with that (the crowd) will hopefully be a big number,” Penske said. “That’s what our hope is, but what we’ve done in the meantime we’ve been doing vaccinations (at IMS). We did 16,000 in three days and we’re getting ready to do a mass vaccination in April. We haven’t worked out the details yet with the state, but we think there’s an opportunity to make a big impact here, where we could give back to the community.
“With the size of our facility and what we were able to accomplish just in three days, we think we can really help this whole area here — the city of Indianapolis and the surrounding counties.”
Penske, who turned 84 in February and got his COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the drive at Indy (“I hit the top age bracket, so that’s one time the age worked out for you”), also is expecting to have crowds at all events on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule, which currently stands at 17 races.
The first three races – starting with Barber Motorsports Park on April 18, Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 25 and Texas Motor Speedway on May 1-2 – already have announced tickets sales are open.
“What we’re doing with each one of the promoters, based on what the local rules are, we’re going to have the sponsor capability with the teams,” said Penske, who also became owner of IndyCar in his groundbreaking deal to buy the speedway. “We limit some of the (credentials for teams), but we’re flexible, and then the promoter will decide how many fans they will have, but in every case as we did in St. Pete (at the Oct. 25 season finale last year), I think at the end of the day, we’ll have fans at all those races, obviously Texas.
“And the good news is that we’ve got network TV on the first six of our eight races, which will give us a good shot in the arm. You’ve seen the number of teams that are entering. We’ve got a lot of new teams and drivers, so we feel good about what we have to do to go racing. … All the promoters are playing ball, and I think that’s what makes a difference. We certainly here at the speedway are using all the flexibility we can to support the teams and giving them the practice they need prior to them getting here in May.”