A fully vaccinated Roger Penske is hard at work at Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing for a full season of racing that will include spectators at his showcase event.
There will be fans at this year's Indianapolis 500, Penske said Monday, but how many remains a moving target based on COVID-19 restrictions. More than 170,000 tickets already have been sold for the May 30 race, he said.
His first Indy 500 as owner of the historic property was held in front of empty grandstands last year.
“We’re not making any predictions at all because anything I would say today could be completely wrong,” Penske said. “Our goal is to have 250,000. I mean, that’s what we want to have. It’s outside. We’ve got the biggest stadium in the world here and it’s a matter of where we’re going to be with the CDC and the governor and the mayor, so I don’t have any number that I’d want to hang my hat on.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway boasts about 250,000 permanent seats with additional space in suites, hospitality areas and an infield that all combined can accommodate at least 400,000 spectators on race day. Penske spent $15 million on upgrades to IMS after closing on his $300 million purchase of the property in January 2020, two months before the pandemic upended his debut as owner.
The 500 was pushed from its traditional Memorial Day weekend date to August and limited to competitors only. Penske wasn't able to open the gates to his showplace until October, when 10,000 fans a day were allowed onto the sprawling grounds for a late-season IndyCar event.
Penske noted Monday that the positivity rate for COVID-19 for Marion County, where Indianapolis Motor Speedway is located, was 3.1%. The NCAA Tournament currently is being played in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and Penske said he believes the Kentucky Derby — about 120 miles away — will cap attendance at 50% capacity.
The speedway has hosted vaccination events that Penske, 84 and inoculated — “I hit the top age bracket, so that’s one time the age worked out,” he joked — believes will bolster attendance options for the Indy 500.