INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the first major sports venue to have fans in the stands again this summer.
Indiana governor Eric Holcomb announced a five-step plan to reopen the state on Friday. The final phase is slated to return to the sports venues on July 4th – the exact day a double header of the IndyCar-NASCAR Xfinity series is set to take place in the US sprawling track.
Holcomb said the social distancing guidelines will stay in place until at least the race weekend, but it will give one of the most famous sports facilities in the world the potential to be one of the first events to welcome fans back.
Mark Miles, who served as President of Penske Entertainment Corp. The IndyCar Series monitors said other precautions may also be taken, although it is too early to provide those details.
Plans could still change if COVID-19 re-emerges in the next two months.
“We have to keep planning two tracks,” Miles told The Associated Press shortly after the announcement. “The phases and their exact dates can change depending on the situation with COVID-19. So I’m assuming we’ll have to plan both scenarios and possibly need to make one last call one way or another before we get to July 3rd or 4th. But we are ready for both cases. “
It’s been a few months since Roger Penske bought the track and the IndyCar series, a deal that was closed in January. When the sports world began to shut down on March 12, under the leadership of the NBA, Penske and his team were working on contingency plans.
They moved the track’s marquee, the Indianapolis 500, from its traditional Memorial Day weekend slot to August 23. They also announced that IndyCar’s other May race, the GMR Grand Prix, will be postponed for July 4th under a double header on Saturday with the Xfinity’s Pennzoil 150. Both will be held on the track’s street circuit.
NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 is still on the historic 2.5-mile oval on the original July 5th date.
The organizers hoped all along that they would drive in front of fans.
“This is a real opportunity. I don’t think anyone can predict exactly what will happen, ”Miles said when asked if it might be the first sporting event in front of the fans. “There is a real possibility that we could be the first, the first NASCAR race with spectators. With IndyCar we hope that we will have spectators beforehand. “
NASCAR resumes its season on May 17th at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, the first of seven events in May for the stock car series – all without fans. Miles still believes IndyCar can hold its late season opener in Texas on June 6th.
It’s unclear what social distancing might look like at IMS, a facility that draws more than 275,000 people for the Indy 500, the world’s largest one-day sporting event.
The number of visitors to the Brickyard weekend has decreased in recent years. Last year’s estimated crowd of 60,000 was an improvement over 2018, and with roughly 235,000 permanent seats on the speedway, there could be enough space for public health officials to reassure fans that it will be safe to attend.
“Of course, I’m a promoter at heart, and when you promote things, things work better when you have fans,” said Speedway President Doug Boles, noting NASCAR officials would also be involved in the preparations. “Mark really directed us to think about what the racing season is like and what the NASCAR weekend is like. That’s why we went to see this. The good news is that if you are socially distant, there is no better place than the speedway . “
AP Auto Racing writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.
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