Bubba Wallace

Bubba Wallace of Richard Petty Motorsports waved to the crowd on his parade lap prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard on Sept. 8, 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo/Jeffrey Brown)

I will readily admit I was a bit skeptical as last weekend rolled around and both the NASCAR and IndyCar Series set up shop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for a combined effort that would offer race fans three events. The differences in both the cars and type of racing it represents is beyond profound, and then there’s the whole who gets the most spotlight thing, along with the challenges of a global pandemic. Clearly, a lot of unanswered questions remained.

Historically, the stock cars have always had their own IMS date, and while the Brickyard 400 has gone from gangbusters to anemic in terms of attendance, NASCAR remains the stronger of the two series in terms of popularity and ratings away from 16th Street and Georgetown Road.

With the big weekend now squarely in the rearview mirror, I do think it’s safe to say the results were more than favorable in terms of both entertainment value and the quality of racing. Sure, for the most part the big-gun teams prevailed as we knew they would, but along the way there was some spirited racing, in addition to the usual drama associated with a NASCAR event which offered those viewing on television something to dissect, enjoy or complain about.

Motor sports have always depended on a niche audience, and when the final lap of the Brickyard 400 was completed, those within the racing brethren had to be pleased with the variety they witnessed.

However, no matter how hard both sanctioning bodies tried to discard the fact that the weekend did not include race fans in the seats, it was beyond eerie to look out of the media center window and see the ghost town the grandstands had unfortunately become. While the powers that be certainly made the right decision to not allow attendance at the events, it simply solidified the stranglehold that COVID-19 has on our country. In my humble opinion, there would have been a very respectable crowd in attendance had it not been for the pandemic, providing a needed boost to the Brickyard 400, which has been lackluster in recent years despite the brilliant marketing campaign that IMS has implemented annually. 

They’ve left no stone unturned in terms of adding value with support races, concerts and various events associated with the race offsite, and it’s a shame they couldn’t showcase it last weekend to the fans.

I’ve always fancied myself as someone who is realistic about racing despite my affinity for the sport, and certainly those who’ve read my offerings in the past know that there is no one on Earth who loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than yours truly, but there is one thing about this past weekend that sticks out and demands a rather serious conversation pertaining to the Aug. 23 running of the coveted Indianapolis 500. It’s time to take a deep breath and concede that there is no safe way to run the greatest race in the world with fans in attendance. Forget about all the talk about reduced capacity and social distancing, as it simply will not provide the environmental protection that the paying public deserves, regardless of all the precautions that IMS has pledged to take. 

I fully understand the tradition associated with the title of “world’s largest one-day sporting event,” but just not this year. With so few of Indiana’s 6 million residents having been tested, it goes without saying the virus is still rampant in our state, and even a reduced crowd at IMS would be a questionable risk at this juncture.

There is also a dangerous narrative within our state that takes solace in the reports that Indiana isn’t as bad as other areas of the country in terms of the number of positive cases identified, but without the aforementioned widespread testing, who can say with any degree of certainty just how dire the circumstances are for every individual in this state, and not just racing enthusiasts? Fans ranging from small children to seniors flock to the Speedway every year, and the risk versus reward numbers just don’t make any common sense.

For those of you who feel I’m being a hypocrite considering I did indeed attend the Brickyard 400 (albeit in seclusion) and I’m now asking you to sit out the Indy 500 as well, I do feel your pain. Like many of you, I’ve worshipped the cathedral of motor sports for decades and plan to cover the 500 again this year. The question is: Are you prepared to take the precautions I did? Will you wear a mask at all times and simply stay away from other people? Can you honestly say, “yes,” and do you think 100,000 (at least that many) other people will do the same? That’s a roll of the dice that could yield consequences none of you want, and that must be considered before you pack your cooler and venture out.

That level of risk is being managed by someone other that yourself, and to their credit, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has offered full credits for your paid admission in 2021. Clearly, you have the option of not attending and not experiencing any financial harm and that’s great, but are you planning on exercising that option, or will you simply attend as normal and enjoy the race regardless of the risk?

IMS did a remarkable job of instituting safety standards this past weekend, but all of you good people were not there to compound an already difficult set of circumstances. Can anyone realistically expect them to fully protect you in the current environmental climate? Of course not, and it’s foolish for anyone to think otherwise.

Let the biggest race in the world be run without fans in attendance and televise it locally. It’s a crying shame for it to be this way, but we will all look back at it as the right decision. IMS has been stellar in the community for many years and changing course on this is indeed a difficult call, but it’s without question the right thing to do.

Danny Bridges, who wants all race fans to be safe on Aug. 23, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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