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Roger Penske Hoping To Have 50% Capacity For Indianapolis 500

Ross Everett
by in NASCAR on
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske is hoping for 50% capacity at the 2021 Indy 500.
  • 50% capacity at the venue means approximately 250,000 fans.
  • The 2020 Indianapolis 500 was run without fans in attendance.

The 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30 and after the 2020 race was contested without fans in attendance hopes are high that a decent sized crowd will be able to attend this year’s race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske has been telling the media that he’s hoping that there will be 250,000 fans in the stands when the field takes the checkered flag. That would be approximately 50% capacity for the massive motorsports venue.

Penske held a Zoom news conference last week and sounded optimistic about the prospects for the live crowd for the Indy 500. At the time, he said that over 170,000 tickets had been sold for the event and should the various government oversight bodies sign off on the plan for hosting a large crowd safely it would very likely hit 250k with relative ease. Penske spoke of his hopes for at least a half full house for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500:

“We’re not making any predictions at all because anything I would say today could be completely wrong. Our goal is to have 250,000 (roughly full capacity for the speedway). That’s what we want to have. It’s outside. We’ve got the biggest stadium in the world here and it’s a matter of where we’re going to be with the CDC and the governor and the mayor, so I don’t have any number that I’d want to hang my hat on.”

“It just shows you the interest in the race and we’ve got a lot of people that are waiting, and we have our (general admission) and what else we normally do on that weekend, but I think the good news is we’re going to have the race and it will be limited or be open based on what the current numbers are.”

The 2020 Indianapolis 500 was originally pushed back three months to August 23. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway initially hoped to host a limited crowd but with COVID-19 still raging in the community the decision was eventually made to go ‘fan-free’. An Indy Car event was held on the speedway’s road course last October with 10,000 fans per day allowed to attend. A lot has changed since then–after the US bungled its way through much of the COVID-19 pandemic the country has done a decent job getting the various vaccines distributed. At the time of this writing only four countries (Israel, UAE, Chile, United Kingdom) have a higher vaccination rate than the US which has administered at least one dose to approximately 40% of the population. The Kentucky Derby will be run in nearby Louisville in early May and Churchill Downs officials are hoping for a 40% to 50% capacity crowd there.

Penske also cited the home county of the speedway’s (Marion County) 3.1% COVID positivity rate:

“It’s way down and I think with that (the crowd) will hopefully be a big number,” Penske said. “That’s what our hope is, but what we’ve done in the meantime we’ve been doing vaccinations (at IMS). We did 16,000 in three days and we’re getting ready to do a mass vaccination in April.  We haven’t worked out the details yet with the state, but we think there’s an opportunity to make a big impact here, where we could give back to the community.”

“With the size of our facility and what we were able to accomplish just in three days, we think we can really help this whole area here — the city of Indianapolis and the surrounding counties.”

The first three races of the Indy Car season have announced ticket sales–Penske explained the process the various venues are using:

“What we’re doing with each one of the promoters, based on what the local rules are, we’re going to have the sponsor capability with the teams. We limit some of the (credentials for teams), but we’re flexible, and then the promoter will decide how many fans they will have, but in every case as we did in St. Pete (at the Oct. 25 season finale last year), I think at the end of the day, we’ll have fans at all those races, obviously Texas.”

“And the good news is that we’ve got network TV on the first six of our eight races, which will give us a good shot in the arm.  You’ve seen the number of teams that are entering.  We’ve got a lot of new teams and drivers, so we feel good about what we have to do to go racing. … All the promoters are playing ball, and I think that’s what makes a difference.  We certainly here at the speedway are using all the flexibility we can to support the teams and giving them the practice they need prior to them getting here in May.”

Penske became owner of the Indy Car series when he purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. Revived fan interest in the Indianapolis 500 would also be a boon for the state’s sportsbooks. Sports betting came online in Indiana in September 2019 which means this would be the first Indy 500 run with fans since then. There are now 11 mobile sports betting apps available in the Hoosier State. There are also two Caesars Entertainment owned and operated retail sportsbooks within an hour of the racetrack: Indiana Grand Racing Casino in Shelbyville and Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson.

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