No Spectators Means Big Indy 500 Purse Adjustment

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Simon Pagenaud took home more than $2 million for winning the 2019 Indianapolis 500. The 2020 winner will likely earn a little more than $1 million. (IndyCar Photo)
Simon Pagenaud took home more than $2 million for winning the 2019 Indianapolis 500. The 2020 winner will likely earn a little more than $1 million. (IndyCar Photo)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Running without spectators in attendance will mean major changes for the 104th Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Aug. 23.

The loss of revenue from ticket sales, parking, camping, concessions, souvenir sales and other monetary losses left Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske with some hard decisions to make. Because of that, this year’s Indy 500 purse will be cut in half.

In February, Penske increased the total purse by $2 million, creating what would have been a record $15 million prize fund for the 33-car field. In February few people could have envisioned the horrible impact COVID-19 would have on public health and the economy.

Back then, Penske and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials were confident another near-capacity crowd would be at the 104th Indianapolis 500.

That was before COVID-19 began to ravage the world.

The 104th Indianapolis 500 was moved from its traditional Memorial Day Sunday date (this year on May 24) to Aug. 23 in hopes the virus would have subsided to the point where most of the fans could have attended. But the summer heat did not kill off the virus, so the capacity was cut to 50 percent at the end of June. One month later, IMS officials expected 25 percent of capacity after many of its ticket holders had opted to skip this year’s race and take the credit for the 2021 Indianapolis 500.

But even after a public health plan was put into place by IMS that included social distancing in the grandstands and mandatory masks for all on the property, it became clear that was still too risky to have 80,000 or so fans at the Speedway.

This past Tuesday, Penske announced the Aug. 23 rescheduled Indianapolis 500 would be held without fans.

On Wednesday, he met with IndyCar Series team owners and informed them the purse would be cut to $7.5 million. This year’s winning driver will collect at least $1 million, but that is down from Simon Pagenaud’s $2.66-million prize that came with winning last year’s Indianapolis 500.

Currently, there are 32 entries for the 33 starting positions. There remains a possibility for a 33rd entry, but any hopes for additional cars are diminishing rapidly.

Because of that, IMS and INDYCAR will scrap the Last Row Shootout on the final day of qualifications – Sunday, Aug. 16. Once the starting lineup is set that day, the full field will have two and a half hours of practice to end the day.

Carb Day will be the final day of practice for the field from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Without an Indy Lights series this season, the Freedom 100 will not take place and the annual Pit Stop Competition has been scrapped.

Legend’s Day on Saturday, Aug. 22 has been eliminated. Pre-race ceremonies on Sunday, Aug. 23 have been modified. The colorful balloon launch at the crescendo of Back Home Again in Indiana has been eliminated for this year in order to limit the amount of additional personnel on the grounds. Typically, the balloon launch requires 40 people working close together and in the era of COVID-19, speedway officials believed it was unsafe.

Because of recent protests from animal rights activists who believe the balloon launch can kill birds and other animals who ingest the rubber, it is not known if it will ever return to the pre-race facilities for future Indianapolis 500s.

An extremely limited number of major sponsors for the series and teams will be able to attend the race. Counting IndyCar officials, team personnel including crew members, broadcast employees, a very limited number of media members, sponsors, police and medical crews, the total number inside the speedway on race day is expected to be 2,500.

104th Indianapolis 500 Schedule

Wednesday, Aug. 12

11 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Oval Veterans Practice (NBC Sports Gold)
1-3 p.m.: Rookie Orientation, Veteran Refresher (NBC Sports Gold)
3 – 5:30 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Practice (NBC Sports Gold)

Thursday, Aug. 13

11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Practice (NBC Sports Gold)

Friday, Aug. 14

11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Practice (NBC Sports Gold)

Saturday, Aug. 15

8:30 – 9 a.m.: Indianapolis 500 Group 1 Practice (NBC Sports Gold)
9 – 9:30 a.m.: Indianapolis 500 Group 2 Practice (NBC Sports Gold)
11 a.m. – 4:50 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Qualifying (NBC Sports Gold; NBC 3-5 p.m.)

Sunday, Aug. 16

11 – 11:30 a.m.: Fast Nine Shootout Practice (NBC Sports Gold)
1:15 – 2:15 p.m.: Fast Nine Shootout Qualifying (NBC Sports Gold; NBC 1-3 p.m.)
3:30 – 6 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Starting Field Practice (NBC Sports Gold; NBCSN 4-6 p.m.)

Friday, Aug. 21

11 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Indianapolis 500 Final Practice (NBC Sports Gold)

Sunday, Aug. 23

1 p.m.: Start of Indianapolis 500 pre-race broadcast (NBC)
2:30 p.m.: 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (NBC)