The Indy 500 – “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – has announced that it will host up to 135,000 fans at its event in May, which will be the largest crowd for an event allowed since the coronavirus pandemic upended live events a year ago. The attendance, approved by the Marion County Public Health Department, amounts to 40 percent of the capacity at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Normally, 250,000 spectators can fit in the grandstands at the facility, with close to 400,000 able to attend races when spread across the whole of the property.
“Our fans mean everything to us, and we can’t wait to welcome them ‘Back Home Again’ for this year’s Indy 500,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said. “The city and state have worked with us to identify the appropriate health and safety precautions so that we can successfully host a limited but very enthusiastic crowd. The health and safety of everyone coming to IMS, along with Central Indiana and the Hoosier State, have been paramount throughout this process.”
Indiana has been one of the early adopters of fans returning to live events as vaccination efforts continue to unfold across the United States. The state recently hosted the entirety of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, spreading March Madness across several venues in a “bubble” format. A total of 8,000 fans were allowed inside Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5 to watch Baylor capture the title game over Gonzaga.
Race fans will be allowed to attend events at the speedway beginning with the road course event on May 15, though general admission areas will not be open. Planned concerts surrounding the events have been cancelled. The speedway will also be open as a mass vaccination site from April 24-30, as well as on select days from May 1-27. Officials are hoping to encourage race day attendees to get their vaccinations ahead of time to maximize the potential for a transmission-free event at scale.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool we have to help us return to the activities we love and have missed over the last year, and every day, more members of our community receive the lifesaving protection it offers thanks in part to community partners like Roger Penske and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Dr. Virginia Caine, director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “Our vaccination rates, combined with the outdoor nature of the event, make it possible for fans to return to these hallowed grounds for the Indy 500 this year. We are grateful to the IMS team for their collaboration throughout this planning process and appreciate their work to ensure vaccines reach our neighbors. I continue to invite everyone in our community 16 and older to visit ourshot.in.gov or call 2-1-1 to sign up for the vaccine.”
Should the full capacity allowed by public health officials be realized, the event would more than double the highest-attended event since the halt on most public gatherings last March. Opening Day for the Texas Rangers saw a crowd of 38,282 in early April, with Alabama’s spring football game hosting 47,218. A cricket match in March drew 51,723 to the grounds in Melbourne, Australia, but the Indy 500 will more than double those totals.
“This event and this place means so much to everybody we see every day and we hear from every day, whether they are Hoosiers or race fans from around the world,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., told The Associated Press. “We feel a real responsibility to protect that legacy and to grow it and to have the race,” Miles said. “We’re ready to take the next step in bringing back the economy and a lot of that in this city and state is driven by sports events which has been shut down for so many months. March Madness was incredibly successful, this is the next step and it just so happens this will probably be the biggest sporting event of the year.”