Penske’s choice: No fans at Indy 500

Industry

If the Greatest Spectacle in Racing happens and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

Roger Penske, the new owner of the 111-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is about to find out.

After vowing in June that his first Indianapolis 500 as the man in charge would happen only if fans could attend, Penske reversed course last week.

It was “the toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life,” the longtime auto dealer and racing team owner told the Associated Press.

“We didn’t buy the Speedway for one year, we bought it for generations to come, and it’s important to our reputation to do the right thing,” said Penske.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the race, which normally happens Memorial Day weekend, to be rescheduled for Aug. 23. As the virus continued to spread, Penske’s team released an 88-page manual on how to safely have spectators at the event. The speedway had planned to limit capacity to 87,500 people — a quarter of the usual 350,000 — and require everyone to wear masks.

But Indiana’s largest health care system recently came out against having fans attend, saying the risks were still too high.

Ultimately Penske, a 14-time Indy winner who has spent $15 million on renovations to the raceway since taking ownership in January, chose to bar spectators rather than cancel the race for the first time since 1945.

“He said today, ‘As much as I hate to say it, it’s the right thing to do,’ ” Team Penske President Tim Cindric told The Indianapolis Star. “ ’And really, it’s the only thing to do.’

“Look at him. He was the one standing up saying he wouldn’t run without fans. To have that, I believe there’s really no other way. If there was any way possible to run it with fans, if anyone could have figured that out, it was Roger.”

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