Strategizing Underway For Fans At Indianapolis 500

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Penske Corp. President Bud Denker, shown here speaking with Josef Newgarden, is optimistic fans will be allowed for the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (IndyCar Photo)
Penske Corp. President Bud Denker, shown here speaking with Josef Newgarden, is optimistic fans will be allowed for the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (IndyCar Photo)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — With two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA, and another one awaiting approval, there are promising signs that life in the United States can begin to get back to normal during the latter half of 2021.

That means at some point, spectators can begin to return to sporting events, movie theaters and concert venues, depending on how many citizens get vaccinated and when herd immunity begins.

Until then, however, racing series such as NASCAR and IndyCar remain cautious and diligent about the potential for 2021 and when spectators may be able to return to near capacity crowds.

It won’t happen, quickly, however.

With a limited number of doses of the vaccine, first priority will go to first responders, hospital workers, other essential workers and the elderly. After that, it will be phased into the general public.

It won’t be in time for the Daytona 500 in February, as NASCAR announced the famed race will be run with limited spectator attendance.

IndyCar officials are also paying very close attention to the progress of the vaccine and how it could possibly impact the size of the crowd allowed at the 105th Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Currently, there are no spectator limitations for the Indy 500, which was held without spectators for the first time in history on Aug. 23.

“We are strategizing for next year’s 500, looking at it from 50 percent capacity to 75 percent to 100 percent capacity,” Penske Corp. President Bud Denker told SPEED SPORT. “We have a great partner at the Speedway in AMR. They sponsor the rescue teams; they sponsor one of the races we have at the speedway and they are a national company that provides medical services to people and businesses.

“They have been a true resource for us to conference with and counsel with and consult with what they see going on in the country relative to COVID and the vaccine. They are keeping us well informed on what is going on and have been a good resource for us.

“IU Health has also been a great partner of ours in Indy,” Denker added. “Indiana Governor Holcomb has been a great partner. We have all of these resources to tap into that provide us some guidance and understanding for next year.

“Is everybody for certain what is available for mass distribution? No. But, we sure are hoping that come next March, April and May the vaccine will be available to the masses.”

As president of the Penske Corporation, Denker is one of Roger’s Penske’s closest associates and most trusted advisors.

He is also one of the top members of Penske’s motorsports team, which includes Team Penske, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle.

“I’m blessed that we met through sponsorship when I was at Kodak many years ago,” Denker said of his relationship with Roger Penske. “We became friends, business associates. When he tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to come on board, I’m so lucky I had the opportunity to do that. You are never prepared for it. You hear about his work ethic and it is legendary, but nothing prepares you for it until you are part of it.

“I came from a blue-collar upbringing with a great work ethic my parents taught me,” Denker added. “Effort equals results and, thankfully, I had those characteristics that were things that work well at this organization.

“We’re not for everybody. We are a 24/7 company. A lot of companies are, but I’m lucky that I’ve got this leader, this mentor and most importantly I have this friend in Roger Penske.”

This strong bond and relationship between Penske and his senior management officials such as Denker is never more crucial than during this pandemic. The success of the vaccine and its implementation to the masses will be very important as to how soon auto racing can return to full capacity.