For the first time in its storied 104-year history, the Indianapolis 500 will take place without spectators. Racing legend Roger Penske, who purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in January, announced what he called "the toughest business decision I've ever made in my life" in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.
"The number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled. We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment," the speedway said in a statement.
The two-and-a-half mile oval is a sprawling complex that can easily hold 350,000 spectators. In June, the IMS had worked with IU Health, Indiana's largest health care system and a corporate sponsor of the race, to develop a safety plan that would allow 25% capacity, or roughly 80,000 fans, at the race.
But last week, IU Health shocked Penske and his team by issuing a statement intended to "strongly encourage IMS" to scrap plans to host the public.
"We have concerns about the risks of infection beyond the scope of the IMS plan, including social gatherings, travel, restaurants, bars, accommodations, and other event-related activities," IU Health said. "This could lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections as we continue to see cases and hospitalizations increase every day."
On Tuesday, Indiana reported 836 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths, while the state's positivity rate hovers just above 7%. Hospitalizations remain fairly steady in the state with only 17% of ICU beds being occupied by COVID patients, and 83% of the state's ventilator capacity is listed as available.
Penske reiterated that the decision was made in the best interest of fans going forward into the future.
"We didn't buy the Speedway for one year, we bought it for generations to come, and it's important to our reputation to do the right thing," Penske said in a telephone interview.
The "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is now set to unfold on August 23.