Indy’s opening up phase in March could make or break Indy 500 fan limits

Indiana, most notably Indianapolis, is trending in the right direction on the COVID front. By doing so, the city is going to start to opening things back up next week. Good for them too. As part of these new restrictions, gyms can go back to half capacity. Bars can stay open until 2 a.m. again at 3/4 capacity at that.

Where this is big is, the Big 10 Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament is coming to town next month. Fans can attend at least the NCAA Tournament with capacities ranging from 500 to 17,500 depending on the venue.

In saying all of that, this could also affect the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 too. Yes, this new decision will definitely have a hand on how many people are allowed through the gates at 16th and Georgetown in a couple of months.

See, the race is in three months time. March, is now essentially back to business for the Circle City. This experiment is going to affect the Month of May, because if numbers spike again, well guess what…

I don’t honestly want to go there. Unfortunately, we have to. Lets march through this journey of well…March.

To do so, the journey actually starts last Fall. Indianapolis opened back up as the months went on last year, but as they did, so did the cases. In November, the city took action again.

Last November, mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine announced the new changes amid rising cases. At that time, Marion County reported more than 700 cases in a single day The seven-day positivity rate was 12%.

At the time, Caine attributed the rise in cases to social gatherings. The changes included venues restrictions on venues, closure of entertainment venues by midnight, sporting events limited to 25% capacity and other guidelines too.

Well, we’re opening back up again. If the numbers surge, we most certainly will go backwards yet again. They’ve proven that method is their first choice. How does this affect the ‘500 if so?

Right now, all indications are the race will have fans this year. To what capacity, it’s hard to tell. No one knows because it’s so fluid by the day. There’s no way a full house can be expected though as a prime example can be pointed to NASCAR. Most of their races are between 20-30% between now and Memorial Day weekend. The NCAA Tournament will have a max of 17,500 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the massive facility on the west side of Indianapolis and taking these other examples into effect, I can honestly see a safe bet of a number between a 75-90k range in attendance for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing as we sit here today. But, what happens if the numbers spike again due to the city’s reopening plan that begins on March 1?


That’s why I’m so incredibly happy that the city is opening back up but so also devastating nervous to what the numbers are going to look like come April. Right now, according to a report, Marion County’s positivity rate has plunged by three-quarters in seven weeks to 3.8%.

What happens if it rises?

Opening up will surely allow that number to possibly rise some more. To what extent is the danger zone for the Indy 500? Last year, they announced on June 26 that the race would go on at 25% capacity. Then, the cases tripled and that plan went out the window.

That’s why that 3.8% rate is the thing to watch right now. What’s the level to where that number sits in April or early May to make the decision on fans or no fans and if fans, how many? It was around 8% on race day last year.

On the flipside though, if the numbers don’t rise when things do open up, does this affect the race in terms of maybe an even larger number? It could actually help the cause too depending on how you look at it. If that number hovers below a 5% and even stay around or lower than 3.8%, does the capacity push 100k or dare I say larger?

A crowd that size IMS can still safely hold with social distancing. The thing is, a crowd at Indy would likely make it the largest one day attended event in this COVID era too. That’s most certainly going to get attention from the opposite side. Those that said you better line the streets outside of the track last year with body bags if you allowed fans to come to the race. Those that want to push fear and give this race and this city unpopular attention. Those are look at this race because of the name and because anyone is showing up will not give it the right attention or help their narrative.

I’ll go on record now and say that I think the Indy 500 should have fans in May. Not full fans, but some fans. I thought they should have last year too. IMS is well equipped to handle a massive crowd in COVID terms. They had a great plan last year before they were forced to go behind closed doors.

I trust Roger Penske, Doug Boles, Mark Miles, Jay Frye and company. These are four of the best businessmen and leaders in this entire country right now. You know that their plan is as pristine as the IMS grounds and Penske perfect.

What the pundits won’t tell you is that the IMS is a campus is 935 acres. 244 of that includes the infield alone. You can fit Vatican City, Churchill Downs, Wimbledon (the entire facility), the Roman Coliseum, Yankee Stadium and the Rose Bowl all snuggled up inside of those 244 acres inside.

So, putting a large crowd north of 70k, you can safely distance everyone throughout the grounds rather easily.

As NASCAR has started holding fans since last summer, there’s been no tied outbreaks to these races. They’ve pulled it off in great fashion. IMS can do the same. Daytona just had 30k at the Daytona 500 with a seating capacity of 101,500. No outbreaks happened.

NASCAR has used staggered entry points to staggered entry times, to distancing to everything in between, IMS can make this happen. The grounds are so massive, you can’t let the number of people there scare you off. You won’t encounter that number.

Plus, as immunity and a vaccine has rolled out, it can help keep these numbers lower. The thing is, the risk is there now on March 1 that could negatively or positively affect May 30 here in Indy. Lets hope everyone does their part and that this decision doesn’t hurt the Indy 500.

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