Fans were back in the stands for the NTT INDYCAR Series races last weekend at Road America. The scenic Wisconsin road course played host to a twin bill of action in front of an estimated 10k fans.
At the time, it was the largest event in the United States with that many people in one gathering during the pandemic.
Now, the series heads to the Iowa Speedway for two more races this weekend. The crowd will be cut in half with between 4-5k allowed in on both nights, but that number is all due to the size of the venue compared to Road America.
The track at Road America is the largest on the a schedule at over 4-miles in length. Iowa, is the shortest this year at 7/8-miles.
So, what does that mean for next months Indianapolis 500 with the massive facility being able to just upwards of 175k?
“It helps, of course,” Mark Miles said on a zoom call on Thursday on learning from the four races held with fans prior. “The more experience we have, the better we get. Although I really do think we started strong even in many of these procedures with the paddock back in Texas.
“There’s so many ways to think about it. But first we got to take care of the competitors, the paddock, the crews, the media, the broadcast talent and production guys, everybody that’s a part of making INDYCAR go.
“I think they’re all doing great. I think they have the right attitude. You might have thought it would wane over time, but constantly there’s conversations, discussions about how important it is that we follow these procedures, that we wear masks, which is right here, I’m the only one in the room, otherwise it would be on. We show up week after week before, during Indianapolis, and for the rest of the year with everybody able to get on track. That’s important.
“In terms of the fans and more kind of a grandstand environment, while there is camping, we’ll learn from that, too. But the scale is different. What I think Michael is doing is working hand in glove with the officials in Iowa and the area there. Their standards are for them. What happens in Indianapolis, Indiana, is still being dialed in, but will probably be somewhat different.
“But the basics are the same: we want to test everybody when they come in, meaning screen for temperature and any other symptoms; we want to make sure everybody has PPE, masks, hand sanitizer and the like; we want to make sure everybody is standing apart in lines, everything from merch sales to food concessions is done differently so it’s as safe as it can possibly be. On and on and on.
“The things you check off are very, very similar. There may be a little bit more in Indianapolis. I’m sure we’ll be talking about that in more detail before long. But it’s all learning. It’s a journey.”
Miles says that they’re also trying to learn a new normal because maybe where were at now is going to be this way for a while. He notes that Indiana was supposed to be in Stage 5 of the reopening plan on July 4. They’re still not there yet. They will remain in 4.5 for at least another couple of weeks.
The city of Indianapolis has been operating between 10-14 days behind the state’s plan. We most certainly will get into August without restrictions being lifted in Indiana in terms of capacity limits.
“You know what I think is happening is society is trying to define a new normal,” Miles continued. “There is probably a point in time when we thought in Indiana stage five is normal, we’re back completely. Now I think nobody has a clue when stage five happens.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what a new normal looks like so that we can continue to operate, continue to do that in the most responsible, safest way, and take care of our fans and communities. That’s what we’re all about. I think Michael and the team are doing that in Iowa. You can be sure we’re all over it for Indianapolis.”
So, how will Indianapolis look next month? The Brickyard 400, Pennzoil 150 and GMR Grand Prix took place behind closed doors because Indianapolis wasn’t going to be to stage 5 by that weekend. How can the Indianapolis 500 host over a quarter of million people a little more than a month later in the same conditions?
If they wouldn’t do it in July, how would they do it with more people a month later?
That’s why Miles and his team are doing their homework each race weekend. They’re trying to figure out a new safe normal and one that includes fans in that.
“We like other sports, have to operate locally even if the series is national and international,” said Miles. “What drives how we approach things is in Iowa the governor, Michael, the mayor of Newton, the local officials, they’ve met with them, they’ve talked with them, worked out a protocol that makes sense according to the situation on the ground there, which would be different in Ohio and different in Indianapolis, wherever we race.
“It’s not like it just builds on itself as a whole. It’s really the parts, where we race, the local conditions there that determine the procedures.”