“We’re going to have fans here” says Boles for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, full report as to why I think we can fully bank on fans here now

INDIANAPOLIS — The two-day NTT IndyCar Series test here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was met with some concern among race fans. See, a lot of fans were anticipating coming out here for the test to bask in the ambiance of the race cars while sitting in the Turn 2 spectator mounds. Then, they went behind closed doors.

Was this trending towards where we were for 2020? Would the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 really run behind closed doors for a second straight year?

Well, I think we can put those rumors to bed. This test was closed to the general public due to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway focusing solely on May 30. This decision was made with an abundance of caution. That’s because the full focus is, how can we get the most fans that we can for the 105th Running next month? If you host fans yesterday and today, does that risk the amount of fans that you can for May 30?

That’s the questions being asked for any day where fans can come through those hallowed gates between now and May 30. Does having fans come in risk fans coming in on May 30?

So, with this just being a test session, they felt it was best to just close the gates and focus forward still. IMS President Doug Boles calmed those nerves on Friday by saying, “we’re going to have fans here” in regards to the Indianapolis 500.

As to how many?

Boles says that number will be known in a couple of weeks. They’re still uncertain on how many they’re allowed but as Governor Eric Holcomb said on Friday that it’s all going to depend on the 7 day COVID average, hospitalization rates, deaths, vaccines, etc.

The rates are up a bit from a couple of weeks ago, but as Boles noted, it’s no where near the levels that it was last summer when they had to make that fateful decision in late July to run the race without any fans in the 104 year history of the event.

So, fans will definitely be here. I don’t think you have to be worried anymore about having the rug pulled out under you. While I get the trepidation because of how last year was handled, this year won’t be like that. Fans are coming.

Has that sunk in yet? Fans will be here on May 30. How many more people do we need to hear from to tell us otherwise?

The next question was, will fans be here for anything else throughout May? Boles said that the plan is to still have fans here for practice and qualifying days, but in terms of how many, that isn’t known yet either. He said that the plan is to just focus on May 30 and come up with the best plan for the right amount of people and then let the ancillary events fall into place from there.

It sounds like there’s no focus on qualifying days, Carb Day or even any random practice day for May. It’s literally 100% focused on May 30 because after all, doesn’t that day matter the most? It certainly does for IMS and INDYCAR, so the key right now is May 30 and the rates of infection and vaccination. The formula between those will determine the fans on May 30.

So far, we know at least 170k tickets have been sold. Can all come? Well that’s TBD. I do have a feeling that some of those 170k may opt out as they did last year when fans were in the plans to come. The key is honing in on a number that can safely come and then determine the ticket holders from there.

It’s not just Boles and Holcomb saying that fans can come. So did Roger Penske, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Health Department Director, Dr. Virginia Caine.

“We’re much further ahead in the game,” said Caine a few weeks ago in a difference between now and last year when we were at a similar situation related to the Indy 500. “So we’re hoping to be very optimistic. I’m a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and they have such an outstanding team and the consultants that they’ve brought to bear related to our safety.”

“If we’re looking at numbers and how we’re trending, I believe we’ll have fans at the Indy 500.”

I do think that we can have a sizeable crowd though too. Penske spoke to the media via a zoom call on the Tuesday morning following the Bristol race weekend and he said that the goal is to have 250k coming through the gates on May 30. While that’s a lofty goal, who’s to say that can or can’t happen.

Do I believe that we’ll see 250k coming? No. He was referring to the grandstand seating capacity limit. But, he also says that 170k tickets have already been sold. I think we can get to that number if things keep trending the way that they have.

“Our goal is to have 250,000,” Penske said. “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. We’re not making any predictions at all, because anything I would say today could be completely wrong.”

If we want to push a crowd of 175k though, it’s going to come down to the positivity rate and what comes out of this March Madness atmosphere.

wrote about that literally a month ago today too. The city started opening things back up early last month. I was happy but somewhat afraid in the back of my mind what this would do for May.

The Big 10 Tournament as well as the entire NCAA Tournament would be played in Indianapolis. With bars easing restrictions and fans able to attend these games, there was a possibility that the numbers could rise again.

This happened last year. We tried to reopen but numbers spiked. In November, everything shut back down 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.

That’s why I was waiting to see how this all played out, which I figured would decide the Indy 500’s fate again.

Hogsett said just that too.

“We will have data that tells us unequivocally whether or not these large events that we are currently hosting has caused any kind of significant uptick in positive cases,” he said.

Go ahead and re read that again.

“We will have data that tells us unequivocally whether or not these large events that we are currently hosting has caused any kind of significant uptick in positive cases,” he said.

Early March, according to a report, Marion County’s positivity rate has plunged by three-quarters in seven weeks to 3.8%. It’s at 4.1% now.

Holcomb said though that 3/4 of Hoosiers over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated and nearly 2/3 of those in their 60’s are.

On top of that, hospitals have the right amount of resources available to handle another surge he says if there happens to be one. Furthermore, hospitals are near record lows and deaths are continually dropping in numbers.

This is all great news for the race. Everything is trending towards this crowd maybe exceeding 100k.

Even Hogsett acknowledged that IMS being an outdoor venue helps, especially with so many already vaccinated and how many more will be to come in the next few months.

“We all acknowledge that because of what we understand of the virus, outdoor environments are safer,” he said. “By the time of Memorial Day weekend, we’ll have had many more weeks of increased vaccine distribution, which I think will certainly plan in an important role in decision making as we go forward.”

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 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 150k, 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.

These are all good signs for race fans next month.

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