Drivers looking forward to race day despite empty stands

Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS (WDTN) – In a normal year, the Indy 500 is a celebration of speed and a feast for the senses, with the traditional sights and sounds that make it the greatest spectacle in racing and the largest single day sporting event in the world.  But thanks to COVID-19, this year, almost nothing is normal.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is permanent seating for 232,000 fans. Add the suites and infield and it’s 300,000 on race day, but this year, the drivers say seeing the stands will be a big adjustment

“I think it’s going to get really weird come Carb Day, come Race Day when you can’t walk through Gasoline Alley and you don’t have the masses of people, it’s going to feel strange and on Race Day it’s going to be gray in the stands, that’s just going to be weird to us. We’re not used to that,” said Sage Karam with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing adds, “It’s sad that we’re here without our race fans, friends, and family. This race means everything to us as drivers but it also means so much to everyone that comes here for the annual pilgrimage to the 500, so I know the disappointment is real for those that can’t be here, but we’ll do our best to still put on a show.”

“It’s right here, being able to walk through Gasoline Alley, nobody around, certainly very unique. I hope we all look at the bigger picture of what this means and obviously the importance to get through this together and not too long down the road we’ve got another Indy 500 in May to look forward to,” said Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Indycar and IMS tried for weeks to find a way for fans to attend, first allowing 50%, and then 25% capacity.  The signs were posted and the seats were socially distanced, but in the end, the risk was just too great.  But so, too, was the risk of not running the race at all. 

“Roger Penske said, and I’ve even said, we weren’t going to run the race without fans. And as we stepped back from that emotional heartfelt response we realized for the IndyCar teams and for the health of the IndyCar series, so we can get to 2021 and welcome fans back, we absolutely had to have this race. Too important to the teams, too important to the sponsors, it really was important that we have this race even without fans, to make sure the health of the overall series was good going into 2021,” said IMS President Doug Boles.

“A lot of teams probably would have gone out of business, frankly, because so much of your sponsorship is tied to this race. If you didn’t have it, those sponsors of course would be asking for their money back, that would be bad for the teams, for the health of the teams, and obviously for the track itself, for the series,” said Rahal.

So this Sunday, the green flag will fly on an Indy 500 unlike any other.  The prize money has been cut in half, and only some of the Race Day traditions will happen. But for 33 drivers, it’s still that once a year chance at racing glory.

“For us, it’s really just going to be about staying focused on the task at hand. It’s weird to be here like this, it’s kind of strange, it’s a strange dynamic. It’s weird to be here in August, there’s all kinds of things that are different but for us it’s about getting out there, sticking the thing toward the front of the grid and being in a position to fight for it at the end on Race Day,” said J.R. Hildebrand of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Click here for more on the Indy 500.

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