Indy 500 expected to have a crowd of 135,000 for May 30 race with face coverings required

Indy 500 crowd
Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images
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Already one of the world’s biggest sporting events, the 105th Indy 500 likely will have the biggest crowd of the COVID-19 pandemic era with a maximum of 135,000 fans expected to attend the May 30 race (which will be broadcast on NBC).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has a grandstand seating capacity of 230,000 according to track owner Roger Penske (noted in an episode of “Coffee With Kyle” last year), will be allowed up to 40 percent of venue capacity, the track announced Wednesday. Between the infield, track suites and team personnel, Indy 500 attendance typically is estimated at 300,000.

Last year’s race was run Aug. 23 without fans. Penske had said last month that IMS had sold more than 170,000 tickets for the 105th Indy 500 and had a goal of welcoming 250,000 fans. During a Zoom news conference Wednesday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said about 33,000 tickets had been returned since the track had asked for an informal head count, and it was expected that more would be returned in the future.

“We gave people an opportunity to take a credit on this year’s event and apply it to 2022 if they wanted to not come or if they wanted to use a portion of and not all of their tickets,” Boles said. “We had roughly 33,000 of those tickets that were returned for a credit, and that puts us down close to that 140,000 number. We anticipate that there will be others even after this announcement now that will say, ‘You know what, I’d like to take a credit for 2022.’

“We also think that there’s an opportunity when that’s done, we’ve continued to have customers reach out, and while we aren’t directly selling tickets right now, there are customers that can go on our website and say, ‘I’d like to buy a ticket and I’d like to buy a ticket in this general area,’ and those folks, once we know what the venue looks like as we set it up and we’re likely to give some of those folks an opportunity to purchase some tickets with the idea that we’ll cap ourselves at 135,000.”

The track, which made its 2021 plan with state and local health officials for Marion County Public Health Department approval, will require and enforce face coverings throughout the venue, and temperature checks will be administered upon entry through public gates.

Fans will be spaced throughout the grandstands, and no general admission tickets will be sold.

“Our fans mean everything to us, and we can’t wait to welcome them ‘Back Home Again’ for this year’s Indy 500,” Boles said in a release. “The city and state have worked with us to identify the appropriate health and safety precautions so that we can successfully host a limited but very enthusiastic crowd. The health and safety of everyone coming to IMS, along with Central Indiana and the Hoosier State, have been paramount throughout this process.”

“The No. 1 thing fans can do to ensure a great Race Day is get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Penske Entertainment President & CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “We continue to offer vaccinations at IMS and will be extending our mass vaccination clinic throughout the Month of May. This is all part of the effort to continue getting Indiana back on track.”

The track already has held multiple mass vaccination events and will have more from April 24-30 and on select days in May. Miles recently said 90 percent of the IndyCar paddock had been vaccinated and is aiming for 100 percent by the Indy 500.

Miles said IndyCar currently is projecting roughly 60 percent of fans in the grandstands for May 30 likely will be vaccinated, and it’s hoped the future events will push the number higher.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool we have to help us return to the activities we love and have missed over the last year, and every day, more members of our community receive the lifesaving protection it offers thanks in part to community partners like Roger Penske and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department, said in a release. “Our vaccination rates, combined with the outdoor nature of the event, make it possible for fans to return to these hallowed grounds for the Indy 500 this year. We are grateful to the IMS team for their collaboration throughout this planning process and appreciate their work to ensure vaccines reach our neighbors. I continue to invite everyone in our community 16 and older to visit ourshot.in.gov or call 2-1-1 to sign up for the vaccine.”

Without infield general admission, the track has canceled all concerts (including Carb Day, Legends Day and the Snake Pit) for May.

“Obviously we want to be careful that we’re not gathering too many people in one location,” Boles said. “So those three mega concerts that we have that really jam people in front of the stage, we’re going to cancel those for this year and hope to bring those back in 2022 under normal circumstances.”