With how things are looking, races likely to have limited capacity for a while

INDIANAPOLIS — Don’t expect things to necessarily go back to normal for a while still. I know it’s 2021 but just because you needed to purchase and hang up a new calendar while also burning the hell out of the 2020 one, that wasn’t the magic potion to automatically just get rid of the pandemic.

Sorry I had to rip off the Band-Aid so soon in this column. But, it was needed and must be said in order to come to grips with the grim reality that if you thought just by going into 2021 that things would get back to normal fairly quickly, well you were swayed in the wrong direction.

I wrote ad nauseum about this last year that I didn’t necessarily think that 2021’s sporting events would look much different than 2020’s. I mean, how could it?

While saying this, I do think there’s obviously light at the end of this tunnel though still. A vaccine is out and becoming more and more available as the days go on. Is it at the speed that most want? Definitely not. But, this is still all new to us and I can’t fathom how the vaccine will be so widely distributed to those who want it in enough quantities to get somewhat back to normal between now and at the very least early summer.

It may not be until the Fall or even this time next year that things can really start to open more freely. Racing included.

I mean, just look at the signs so far and it doesn’t take much to see the writing on the wall. Pack grandstands isn’t happening any time soon. Period. I’ve been getting asked about the Indianapolis 500 in May and while I know nothing in terms of attendance levels and in fact, no one does yet, I don’t foresee a 300,000+ fans showing up to 16th and Georgetown on Memorial Day weekend again.

The brightside is, I do strongly feel like fans will be allowed to go this year. It just won’t be all those big aluminum grandstands being packed to the brim. The Harvest Grand Prix race weekend held fans. The Colts held between 7-12k fans all season. Butler is hosting fans for their basketball games. IMS still has a plan in place from last year that they felt would work in hosting fans last August. It’s just that, I don’t think there’s any way between now and then that enough vaccines will be out to allow that place to open fully.

That’s why I feel like fans can go this year but not all of them.

If you can’t see that, then you may need to take off the blinders. I mean just look at all the recent moves already done.

Bristol just announced on Thursday that the dirt race at the end of March will be limited capacity and that those seats are sold out. That comes after Phoenix announced earlier this week that they’ll have limited capacity again. So will both races at Daytona as well as Homestead.

That race No. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 so far on the 2021 season. The only ones not known yet are the fourth race in Vegas and the sixth race in Atlanta. But, if none of the others are at full capacity, why would they?

That gets you to April for them with Fontana already being canceled.

INDYCAR moved Long Beach from April to the end of September for a reason. They know California has strict rules in place and the prospects of hosting fans at a race that wasn’t even run last year was slim for this spring. So, they moved back on the schedule in hopes it gives this vaccine more time to be more widely reached.

Then you get the St. Pete news on Wednesday that they’re moving back on the schedule too. They’ll move back 49 days from the first weekend of March to the last of April. That move was done in order to hope more fans have the opportunity to get vaccinated between the two race dates which could allow for more fans in April than March.

It’s all dollars and cents or is it sense or even both for these circumstances?

With 20k allowed in St. Pete last October, I don’t see the number in March being much more than that was. But, with more vaccines out, that number creeps higher for April. The thing is though, as we get closer to time, do they think why not wait until the Fall again where I can host even more fan than April? Isn’t that more revenue for them?

Does that thought come in Barber’s mind who’s now the season opener for INDYCAR? They can say, ‘hell we had no fans and no revenue last year, why not move back to the Fall too and host more fans than we could host in April?’

What does Texas say? What about Indy?

The question now is, how many other races could be affected by this? Does Barber eventually move back? Does St. Pete again? Does Texas?

See, Barber didn’t run at all last year. Texas held no fans. INDYCAR races don’t have the luxury of hosting no fans or minimal fans for years upon years. Their TV contract isn’t like NASCAR’s to where the tracks make millions by them showing up. The tracks have to pay INDYCAR, a term called a sanctioning fee, for INDYCAR to host a race on their grounds. But, without any fans or with minimal fans, how can they pay INDYCAR that fee?

So, INDYCAR has to decide to take less from that track or to not show up at all. If they don’t show up, then that’s a full loss of revenue by not having a race. They in turn have to look elsewhere – hence the fluid schedule.

NASCAR isn’t going to have full houses until at the very earliest April but do you honestly think it even happens then? They don’t have to worry about moving races because they’ve proven they can make money due to the TV deal. A NASCAR track hosting a NASCAR event can keep going on schedule knowing fans or no fans, they’re fine. An INDYCAR event for their tracks may make more decisions like St. Pete and Long Beach have made. Just move back on the schedule in hopes of hosting fans or in St. Pete’s case, more fans than initially expected.

The question now is, how many other races could be affected by this? Does Barber eventually move back? Does St. Pete again? Does Texas?

We have to be fully honest here in say that there’s no way any race until this summer can be anywhere close to full capacity. If you can’t see that writing on the wall, I don’t know what to tell you. Does the Indy 500 move back again or do they just take what they can get and eye 2022 as a back to normal plan?

That’s why the 2021 schedule will be fluid and may not have many races with full houses. But, I do need to stress and reiterate that good news is on the horizon. I don’t see many races being held behind closed doors like they were in 2020. At least fans are welcomed again. We have to accept the limited fans now in hopes for an abundance of fans later.

Baby steps.

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