Graham Rahal

No fans no Indy 500
Chris Jones/IndyCar

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

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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: