Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti wins the pole position for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 race. His speed was 231.351 miles per hour. (Photo/Walt Thomas)

It’s been downright eerie this past week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without any fans in attendance at practice and qualifications. There are no racing enthusiasts as I walk along the now vacant Pagoda Plaza in search of a tenderloin sandwich, and the Cathedral of Motor Sports that I’ve frequented for just over five decades has been overtaken by a surreal, yet sad sense of silence.

There’s no vendors hawking their wares, and I no longer have to wade through crowds of the IMS faithfuls seeking a glimpse of their favorite driver, hoping to grab an autograph or a selfie with them.

Yes, I’m wandering around in a virtual haze, wondering how this could’ve occurred and when things will return to the “old” normal.

Yes, those are the salad days, my friends, and as I long for the return of such, it dawned on me yesterday that the racing will be just the same without those who’ve patronized this event for, in some cases, longer than I’ve been alive. Yes, that’s a harsh statement but it’s the hard, cold truth, which in this particular case is extremely difficult to swallow.

Clearly it’s tragic for race fans to be delegated to the comfort of their living rooms Aug. 23 when the green flag drops on the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, but when the health and safety of all those who purchase ducats faithfully every year prevailed, forcing IMS to make the right call about running the greatest race in the world in front of an empty house, there was an outcry that could be heard from Maine to Montana about the injustice of it all and how things just wouldn’t be the same on race day without the fans.

While that frame of mind has some merit on the surface, in reality that’s simply not the case. While every driver seeking to win it has publicly proclaimed they will miss the pomp and pageantry that accompanies some 250,000 fans on the day of the show, they will also privately concede they will be just as focused when it comes time to strap in and play a moving game of chess with their colleagues at better than 225 miles per hour when the green flag finally unfolds and we all hold our collective breath as they enter turn one.

Of course, it’s a crying shame that fans will not be allowed in, but take solace in the fact that it’s just for this year and if we all buckle down and practice sound judgment in terms of eradicating COVID-19, you’ll be back in business come May of 2021. Enjoy the world-class drivers who will, as always, push themselves and their cars to the limit seeking the coveted title of Indy 500 champion, all the while entertaining you through a live local telecast that will be engineered and produced by some of the best sports television technicians in the business, many of them living right here in central Indiana.

For the naysayers who’ve already vowed to never be seen again at IMS over the logical decision made to protect you and yours, I know you’ll be watching on television, and once you see how engaging things will most likely be for the race, you’ll be forgiven and once again granted entrance to the hallowed grounds at 16th and Georgetown, where your seat awaits you for next year’s race.

In the interim, sit back with your favorite food and beverages this weekend and take in all the sights from the comfort of your home. Enjoy the vast number of storylines that are prevailing, and while you have every right to feel frustrated by virtue of being on the outside looking in, reflect on the great times you’ve had at the track, and look ahead to the new memories you’ll be creating upon your return.

I’m predicting a banner race, one that you’ll remember for ages as you look back on this most unusual year, so be part of it all remotely.

Don’t let the excitement of the Indy 500 escape you, and please don’t fib and tell your all your co-workers the next day that you didn’t watch it. It’s the Indianapolis 500, and it’s going to be great, so tune in and enjoy it. Open your windows as you watch and cheer as if you were sitting in your assigned seat at IMS. Who knows, the drivers just might hear you from afar as they look to entertain you all day.

Danny Bridges, who will be witnessing his 51st consecutive Indy 500 this weekend, can be reached at (317) 370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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