MOORESVILLE, N.C. – A key component to the safety and public health related protocols to hosting the 104th Indianapolis 500 is wearing a mask or other face covering.
The mandatory requirement will be enforced, according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials. Those who refuse to wear the masks will receive several warnings leading up to possible ejection from the facility and the event.
“We are going to require masks and we are not kidding,” Penske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles said Wednesday morning during a national teleconference.
This year’s pandemic-delayed Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Aug. 23. IndyCar and IMS officials expect 25 percent capacity at this year’s race in order to observe Marion County Indiana Board of Health and Indiana Department of Health officials’ guidance.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said ongoing communications will continue to message fans the importance of wearing the masks while at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Between now and the first day we are open, we will message the fans the importance of wearing the masks,” Boles said in response to a question posed by SPEED SPORT. “It is not without science behind us that when you wear it, it does limit the spread of the (COVID-19) disease. It is really important to our ability to execute our practices, qualifying and race day.
“We will communicate very heavily to folks leading up to the time we are open. When they are here, they will get communication as they walk into the gate. We will give them a mask, so there is no excuse for not having one as they come in.”
What follows is a level of progressive enforcement.
“Our guest services folks will have a team moving throughout the grounds reminding them to wear those masks,” Boles said. “We’re hoping our fans remind them as well.
“If it is appropriate, we will be prepared to ask people to leave. I hope we don’t have to do that, but we are prepared to do that if people aren’t willing to comply to what we believe is a reasonable requirement.”
Dr. Ed Racht, chief medical officer for Global Medical Response (GMR), discussed the importance of the mask along with social distancing measures that are essential to holding the major sporting event at the massive facility.
“There is a parallel dynamic that will really help us in the evolution of this illness,” Racht said. “The concept of masks is being more culturally accepted in the political and science arena. Our hopes are a lot of that trend by the time we move forward will be addressed in changes from a human behavioral standpoint.
“The other component is we see this as a good opportunity to remind that this illness is a long haul. This is a great venue to say one of the reasons we can enjoy things like this is because we enjoy it in a slightly different way that protects each other. We are banking on making it positive, informative but reinforcing it as a group.
“This will be a key point in the stands with spectators.”
Last weekend’s Iowa IndyCar 250s at the much smaller Iowa Speedway was promoted by IndyCar owner Roger Penske’s staff, including many of the key players that organize the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle. Fans were properly spaced apart.
The hill, a grassy area outside of turn one, was open to general admission ticket holders, but there were circles outlined in the grass that were properly measured along the hill. Fans were allowed to sit inside of those circles to maintain social distance.
That system worked out quite well. Also, fans in the grandstands on both nights appeared to properly wear their masks.
In many ways, it was a trial run to help take this plan to an even larger scale at the Indianapolis 500.
“I thought they did a great job,” Miles said. “Fans wanted to be there. Fans did their part. There were circles chalked in the grass areas and fans sat in those circles with groups they came with. I thought it was an excellent development.
“This is all a development, training ourselves and a chance to execute before we get to the Indianapolis 500. We are making progress and getting people to understand it’s important to them and their responsibility.
“It is important to them in a very helpful way.”
Other highlights of the teleconference included the revelation that the number of Bronze and Silver Badge holders will be reduced, but they will have access to the Gasoline Alley garage area as long as those spectators are wearing masks. Also, no food or drinks will be allowed in the garage area by the Bronze and Silver Badge holders.
During qualifications, the number of people at the south end of the pits where the cars leave for the qualification attempts will be dramatically limited. In regards to access to pit lane before the race on race morning, the time of that access will be reduced.
Also, nobody other than race team members will be allowed on the track in the hours leading up to the Indianapolis 500, as the cars are being placed on the grid and before the command to start engines.
Other protocols were outlined in an 88-page report released Wednesday morning.
After consultation with ticket holders who were given the option of attending this year’s race, or having their tickets applied as credits to the 2021 Indianapolis 500 have given IMS officials the understanding that 25 percent of capacity will attend this year’s Indy 500.
Earlier this year, Roger Penske confirmed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has 235,000 permanent grandstand seats. At 25 percent capacity, that means a crowd of around 62,500 fans, or less, plan on attending this year’s Indy 500 in person.
IMS officials also indicated if fans that plan on attending change their mind, it’s not too late to opt out of 2020 and get a credit for next year’s Indy 500.
Because of the strict limitations on attendance, the local television blackout in Indianapolis has been lifted, so longtime fans who will not get to attend the race can see it live on the local NBC affiliate, WTHR-TV, Channel 13.
Barring an unforeseen development, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has met all Marion County and State of Indiana Board of Health approval.
“As far as the plan itself, it is approved,” Miles said. “We have a green flag and we expect to be able to do the race.”