Officials share Roger Penske’s optimism for fans at Indy 500; say IMS made call last year

Indy 500 fans 2021
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar
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While declining to specify capacity, local officials are confident the 2021 Indy 500 will have fans again and credited Indianapolis Motor Speedway leadership with making the call to run the race last year with empty grandstands.

IMS owner Roger Penske was bullish Monday about welcoming back fans May 30 for the 105th Greatest Spectacle in Racing but declined to estimate how many, saying the goal was its roughly 250,000 capacity.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said during a Thursday news conference with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett that it was “very difficult” to determine capacity but added “we’re much further ahead in the game compared to last year when we were at a similar situation related to the Indy 500. So we’re hoping to be very optimistic. I’m a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and they have such an outstanding team and the consultants that they’ve brought to bear related to our safety.

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“And they were the ones who made that tough decision about no spectators last year. So they’re very conscious related to the safety of this community. They look at the science as well as us on the evidence. So we’ve enjoyed a collaborative relationship in terms of reviewing all the data and analysis and its impact on our community. We’re very pleased to have the opportunity of being able to consent to continue a very major attraction in our community, but we also want to make sure we have a very safe event happening in our community. If we’re looking at numbers and how we’re trending, I believe we’ll have fans at the Indy 500.”

Race winner Takuma Sato takes the checkered flag of the 104th Indy 500 ahead of Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

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 noting that Marion County positive rates had shrunk to well under 5 percent, Penske said the race being held outdoors was a major selling point, a stance echoed Thursday by Hogsett during the news conference.

“We all acknowledge that because of what we understand of the virus, outdoor environments are safer,” Hogsett said. “By the time of Memorial Day weekend, we’ll have had many more weeks of increased vaccine distribution, which I think will certainly play in an important role in decision-making as we go forward. We’ll have data that tells us unequivocally whether these large events we are currently hosting has caused any kind of significant uptick in positive cases, and we’ll continue to work with leadership at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Their team is top notch in every way.

“I know that Roger Penske, Mark Miles, Doug Boles and Allison Melangton really put a priority on the public health and safety of their fans as well as those who will attend from Indianapolis. We’ll continue to work with their team. We’ve got some time and some results that will be available to us that we may not have access to do right now.”

Roger Penske said 170,000 tickets have been sold for the 105th Indy 500 but declined to make predictions Monday “because anything I would say today could be completely wrong. 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.”