Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

# 1: Indy 500 Moves for the first time starting May

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a series of 10 vignettes in which Paul Kelly, Senior Communications Manager at IMS, picks his top 10 moments of 2020 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This was, without question, a year of seismic news at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Roger Penske completed his purchase of the track in early January and announced an aggressive, multi-million dollar facility improvement program in February that focuses on improving the fan experience.

On the weekend of July 4th, IMS hosted the first joint event weekend of the NASCAR Cup Series-NTT INDYCAR SERIES in racing history. The “Race for Equality & Change” program, which opens up new opportunities in motorsport to many people, was also presented this weekend.

A third INDYCAR event took place for the first time at IMS that same year, the Harvest GP, presented by GMR in early October. Beloved IMS historian Donald Davidson announced his resignation in early December.

But on the Richter scale of the news in 2020, perhaps nothing rocked the racing capital of the world and its fans more than the March 26 announcement that announced the 104th Indianapolis 500 would be held from May 24th to August 23rd Health and safety precautions are due due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the opening of “500” on May 30, 1911, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has always taken place in May. Even the 1986 race, which was postponed for a week due to rain, ended on Saturday May 31st.

Not this year.

IMS and INDYCAR officials worked diligently with state and local officials to develop health and safety measures that will allow fans to compete in the August 23 race. However, the ongoing pandemic forced those plans to sink and make the 104th edition of the world’s largest car race took on an even more surreal quality when it was announced on Aug. 4 that no fans would be admitted to the facility for practice, qualification or race day will.

However, flexibility and resilience are among the greatest qualities of racing teams and racing fans, so the show continued despite the special circumstances. Drivers and teams were prepared not to hear or feel the hum of the crowds, and fans followed the action closely through their television, computer and cell phone screens rather than from the cave-like stands of IMS.

Despite the challenging circumstances, there was still a lot of drama. Marco Andretti thrilled fans around the world with his speed during training and the exciting run to pole. For the first time since Mario Andretti won pole in 1987, the name Andretti was on the scoring pylon. Takuma Sato burnished his legend with a sweeping second win.

There was also a lot of contact with fans, both near and far, throughout the event. This included plenty of social media initiatives and a fun, memorable program with all 33 starters visiting the home of an Indy 500 ticket holder in nearby Speedway, Indiana, to deliver a gift bag and give fans for theirs the day before the race Gratitude to thank loyalty.

Sure, Race Morning wasn’t the same with its pared-down pre-race ceremonies and empty grandstands. But when the green flag waved, fans were treated to yet another spectacular edition of the world’s greatest race.

The drivers put their foot on the accelerator as hard as ever, the crews performed their beautiful ballet with chorophics at pit stops, and Sato drank and splashed the winner’s glass of milk in Victory Lane like in other, more normal years.

Everyone is looking forward to a time when the Indianapolis 500 will return to its usual place as the center of the racing world in May and not in August. Let’s be honest: the month of August doesn’t quite sound like the month of May.

But in a year when nothing was normal, the Indianapolis 500 showed the resilience that led it through two world wars, the Great Depression, and all sorts of changes in both the racing world and society at large.

It’s still “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the memorable “August Race” is the newest chapter in the event’s rich history.