Indy 500 plan for spectators during pandemic shows it’s possible to move too fast in auto racing

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a great place. It is large enough to accommodate a golf course, the most famous oval race track in the world and, on a good day for the Indy 500, over 400,000 spectators.

There will be no attendance close to the 2020 event, but there will likely be much more than anyone who has lived in the past three months can imagine.


IMS plans to open the bleachers with a 50% capacity for August 23. Indianapolis 500 was made clear in a letter to ticket holders released on Friday. The race, held for more than a century on Memorial Day weekend, will be postponed for nearly three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: What you need to know about the 2020 Indy 500

While spectator sports in Europe have been played without spectators since Germany's return to the Bundesliga in May, and the PGA Tour and NASCAR competed without the public in person, the Speedway apparently plans to have about 125,000 people in the stands of this 500 year.


This plan is, to say the least, ambitious.

No, this is being cool.


This is absurd.

The state of Indiana contains only two cities with a population of over 125,000, and none of them are squeezed into an area of ​​just 560 acres. NASCAR's design to allow fans to run a July 15 star race at Bristol Speedway, Tennessee, includes 30,000 spacing around a 162,000 track. When Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith spoke in May, he discussed the possibility of including just 22,000 spectators at 104,944 Ohio Stadium.

There are many histrionics in the sports media about the feasibility of returning to competitive sport in the United States, while coronavirus incidents continue to increase in various parts of the country. Some suggested that the PGA Tour be closed because some caddies were positive this week. And radio host Daryl Ruiter tweeted this when it was announced that a meaningless event like the Pro Football Hall of Fame – the Hall of Fame! – It was canceled.

Maybe he was kidding. Professional sports can and will be done safely in the USA. In fact, they already are, as NASCAR has shown since resuming its race schedule on May 17 in Darlington. However, there is nothing to indicate that allowing large meetings is a prudent decision. That's why Broadway is bleak, rock stars aren't touring, and the NWSL is starting its 2020 season this weekend with no audience present.

IMS President Doug Boles told ticket holders that the intention is to accommodate about half of the tickets "in or near your current location". Those who wish to keep more than half of their tickets may be allowed, but may have to move elsewhere in the stands.

"We are committed to driving the Indy 500 on Sunday, August 23, and we will welcome fans to the largest racing venue in the world," said Boles in an IMS statement. “We will be limiting service to approximately 50% of the capacity of the site and we are also finalizing a series of additional health and safety measures carefully considered. We will reveal the specific details of our comprehensive plan in the coming weeks. "

That plan already includes this, according to the statement: "Individuals in high-risk groups are encouraged to consider staying home and returning in 2021".

MORE: May without the Indy 500 was "as strange as possible"

The 500 is typically a gigantic event in your city: concerts, parades, popular qualifying races and generally an accompanying road race that is held within the Speedway grounds and partially on the track. Losing would be a blow. That's why it always seemed likely that the race would continue.

And because the track is so vast, it also seemed advisable to accommodate moderate-sized audiences. It would be a blow to the excluded who made 500 such an important part of their annual schedule. But there were many greater sacrifices made by the Americans because of this pandemic.

Opening a 50% capacity, however, seems like an unnecessary exercise in arrogance. We saw that a similar approach operated on a large scale in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida. Indiana was not dominated by the coronavirus, but it was never completely suppressed. The state had 60% more cases per capita than neighboring Ohio, and 63% more deaths.

Speed ​​is often the focal point in Indy car racing.

This time, however, things are moving very fast.

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