This year’s Indianapolis 500 will be run with some fans in the stands. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has announced the 105th running of the race will take place with 40% of venue capacity, which totals some 135,000 fans, and health and safety protocols in place. IMS says the plan was developed in consultation with state and local health officials and has been approved by the Marion County Public Health Department.
During a virtual news conference, Penske Entertainment Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mark Miles said, in many ways, they have been planning for this for 13 months.
“It was March in 2020 that we began thinking about COVID and how we could run our events, including the 500, for last year under constantly changing circumstances,” said Miles. “And our team has done an incredible amount of work, thousands of hours of planning, for every imaginable contingency or scenario.”
Miles says while discussions with health officials for the plan for the race have been going on for months, making the announcement now was the right time, especially in the wake of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in Indy.
“I think they can look back on it now and believe that it was not a super-spreader event and so that, I think, gives us all more confidence,” he said. “They needed to have that insight before it was time to make these key decisions going forward.”
Race fans will be required to undergo a temperature check when entering the famed oval track and wear face coverings throughout the venue. IMS will ensure spacing between customer groups in the grandstands and elsewhere around the track.
The Speedway says spectator viewing mounds will be closed to the general public throughout the month of May and no race day general admission tickets will be sold. Additionally, frequent cleaning and sanitation processes will be in place.
IMS President Doug Boles says the capacity restrictions and other protocols will be in place for every day of activity during the month of May, including the GMR Grand Prix road course race.
“Theoretically, I guess we could have that 135,000 people on our GMR Grand Prix day,” said Boles. Obviously, that number is not one that we’ll have there. We’ll just ensure that as customers come in that they’re spaced appropriately and we’ll go through the same masking protocols and otherwise on practice, qualifying and the GMR Grand Prix days.”
IMS currently has planned vaccination days scheduled from April 24-30. Vaccinations will also be available on select days from May 1-27. Additional details will be announced in the future. Miles says allowing for additional vaccinations will not only make the community safer, but the race as well.
“We do projections every day…and we forecast, before our extra efforts throughout May, that something approximating 60% of the fans in the stands are likely to be vaccinated and I hope that we can push that up more through the ongoing efforts and the advertising and public service campaign that we’re going to run probably in the next week to really get the message out and keep driving vaccinations here.”
In late March of last year, officials postponed the Indy 500 and the GMR Grand Prix due to the pandemic. The road course race took place without fans on the Fourth of July weekend. IMS and INDYCAR officials had hoped to run the 500 with 25% venue capacity, however those plans were changed in early August to hold the race with no fans in the stands for the first time in history.
“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 life saving protection it offers thanks in part to community partners like Roger Penske and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “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.”
IMS adds the traditional Carb Day, Legends Day and Snake Pit concerts have been canceled.
Miles says, in many ways, they have been planning for this for 13 months.