The Indianapolis 500 has always been more than a sporting event. After a long, cold, Indiana winter, Indy cars circling Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been more of a rite of spring.
Race day at the Indianapolis 500 is about honoring the brave men and women who gave their lives in battle to keep the United States a free land. It also signals the unofficial arrival of summer.
Those time-honored traditions will change this year.
The sports world has been paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic
Major sporting events such as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament have been canceled. The Masters golf tournament and the Kentucky Derby have been postponed until later in the year.
For the first time in its history, the Indianapolis 500 will not be run in May. The 104th Indianapolis 500 has been moved to Aug. 23.
Although it won’t be held on Memorial Day weekend, the event will continue to pay respect to the military heroes, with a twist. Men and women from the medical field and first responders will be honored as the heroes of the battle against COVID-19.
After that, an expected field of 33 drivers will once again try to achieve racing immortality, only at a different time of year than at any point in the 111-year history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With many states having “stay-at-home” orders that run into the month of May, speedway owner Roger Penske realized it would be difficult to run the race on May 24.
“The month of May at IMS is my favorite time of year and like our fans, I’m disappointed we’ve had to reschedule the Indy 500,” the 83-year-old Penske said. “We’re going to double down on the customer experience in the months ahead and I’m confident we’ll greet fans with a transformed facility and a world-class spectacle when we run the world’s greatest race later this year.”
Instead of kicking off the month of May at Indy, the GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis will move from May 9 to Saturday, July 4, creating a first-time NASCAR and IndyCar doubleheader.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will race on the road course as scheduled on July 4 along with the IndyCar Series, while the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Cup Series race will hit the 2.5-mile track the following day.
Mark Miles, the CEO of Penske Entertainment, and Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, were charged with figuring out the scheduling puzzle.
In order to pave the way for the Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, the scheduled MotoAmerica motorcycle race had to be moved to Oct. 9-11.
“I think there have been several keys,” Miles said. “The first was that our priority was to have the 500, to put it at a time far enough out that we have every reason to believe it will be a safe time from the public’s perspective in terms of public health, and to give our fans time to plan so we can count on them to be here in August. That was key.
“Working with NASCAR has already been talked about,” Miles added. “They were terrific. There was just no friction in that conversation at all. It was about how do we work together to make lemonade out of lemons.”
Miles and Boles had to ensure the history and the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 would remain intact.
“The reality today is we might still have been able to run as scheduled in May,” Miles said. “We hope life is back to normal, or near normal, by then.
“After protecting public health, our priority is absolutely about running the 104th Indianapolis 500 race in 2020. By rescheduling in late August, we fully expect to be outside the window impacted by the COVID-19 virus. We and our fans still have five months to plan for the event. We believe our fans will be ready in August.
“More specifically, the date is in late summer, before NFL regular season games, and before college football really begins,” Miles added. “With a number of postponed sporting events being rescheduled in the summer and early fall, it’s frankly very difficult to find three consecutive weekends as we traditionally have in May.
“Moving the GMR Grand Prix to July 4 to run with NASCAR’s Xfinity Series on the road course is a big positive. It’s groundbreaking.”
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