Did You Have Month of May Withdrawals?

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The Month of May officially comes to a close on Sunday. Last weekend was the first time I have been home for Memorial Day since 2002. From 1996 through 2002, I did not go to the Indianapolis 500. It wasn’t necessarily a protest of The Split. At that time, I was in the throes of going through a nasty divorce; but I also had no desire to attend and watch what I considered a diluted field. I continued to buy my tickets for the race from 1996 through 1998, but by then it had become obvious that The Split would not end anytime soon; so I let my tickets go.

I also moved out of the state of Tennessee for the first and only time in my life in 1998; moving to Charlotte, NC for three years until moving to Nashville in 2001. In May of 2000, I actually attended the (gasp) Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend.

Shortly after moving back to Tennessee, I decided it was time to rekindle my love affair with the Indianapolis 500 – since I was now only four hours away. In 2002, I took my kids to qualifying in a one-day turnaround. The few hours I spent there that day was enough to convince me that it was time to come back. I watched the 2002 race from home, but ordered my tickets for 2003 as soon as I could. I have attended every race since 2003.

As much as I love the Month of May and make sure I visit IMS every chance I get, you would probably assume that I was going through May withdrawals for the past four weeks. To be honest, I wasn’t.

Maybe it’s because I don’t live in Indiana – but this Month of May has been like any other month of the year, only with a few restrictions. I still went to work every day, I had work-related deadlines, I still had bills to pay at certain points of the month and I had household chores to keep me busy every weekend in May.

This past Sunday morning, I watched the 2006 Indianapolis 500 on You Tube. What did I do on Sunday afternoon, when the race would have been running? Did I moan in agony over what should have been? No. Instead, I stained my wooden fence. Then Sunday night I watched the DVR version of the very well-done "Back Home Again Special" that had been run earlier that day on NBC. It was an enhanced replay of the 2019 Indianapolis 500, with Mike Tirico serving as host, with Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi as guest from one of the top levels of The Pagoda. Not only did it have very interesting commentary from those two drivers who finished one-two in last year’s race; but NBC did a nice job of observing Memorial Day festivities as well as acknowledging the effect that the coronavirus has had on racing, sports and society as a whole. If you missed it and can find a replay of it somewhere, watch it. It’s worth your time.

I think what kept me going, is knowing that we will have our Month of May in August. Had the 104th Running been simply cancelled, then I would probably be in mourning right now – thinking about what might have been. Instead, I immediately shifted my focus to three months from now and have gone about my business. It also helps knowing that in just six and a half weeks, the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis will be taking place – so I can get my fix of all things Indianapolis then (including, but not limited to, a tenderloin at Dawson’s).

You would think that someone who lives by the mantra “Change is Bad” would have gone crazy this month. But sanity left the building over two months ago, and we all quickly learned that as far as the spring of 2020 goes – all bets are off.

Fortunately, if you are a racing fan, sanity is starting to make a return. NASCAR is running its fifth race in two weeks this Sunday. A couple of weeks ago, the ultra-restrictive state of California reversed course and said that sports could return sans fans on June 1. IndyCar will finally run its first race on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, in front of empty stands, but on Big NBC. Road America confirmed last week that they will definitely allow fans at their newly re-scheduled Rev Group Grand Pix over the July 10-12 weekend. A similar announcement is expected for the GMR Grand Prix the weekend before Road America.

Social distancing can take place at Road America, because of the vast size of the facility. It can also take place at IMS for the Grand Prix over Fourth of July weekend. If fans are allowed at either event, or both – we will be there. We trusted our leaders when they said we have to stay home, why not trust them if they say it’s safe to attend sporting events?

I’ve come under criticism here and on social media for being so bullish on the Indianapolis 500 taking place in August – with fans. Some have been kind by saying I’m overly optimistic, while others have been not-so-kind in questioning my intelligence and my mental stability. Unfortunately, the whole COVID-19 thing has devolved into a political football. A couple of weeks ago, someone decided to tell me how wrong I was by resorting to the same tired old rhetoric used by both political parties and turning this into a political matter. Since when is my desire to go to the Indianapolis 500 a political agenda?

In all honesty, this optimism is why I’ve survived this May. If I truly believed that the August date meant that fans would not be allowed, or that the once-postponed date would be postponed again until October – my hair would be a lot more gray than it already is.

My optimism on the August date is not about politics at all. It’s about Roger Penske making certain it runs in August. You can take the coronavirus statistics and spin then any way you want, in order to make it satisfy your narrative. But I do think that the numbers are going down, even as states open back up. Maybe it’s only because I want it to happen, but I believe that trend will continue. As we become more and more comfortable, I fully believe that the Indianapolis 500 will run on August 23 with fans.

Roger Penske knows how to work with state and local politicians. He is also a very intelligent and responsible individual. He will ultimately make the correct call, but I’m convinced that he will decide to run the race with fans, albeit wearing masks and checking fan’s temperatures at the gate. I posted this same photo just a couple of days ago, but seeing that signs like this have recently popped up at IMS gives me another reason to think that they fully intend to run this race with fans in August.

Covid

I have been very public and very consistent with these thoughts for the last two months. Even my closest friends have disputed me on this, claiming I was guilty of wishful thinking (at best) and possibly even being delusional. But here we are at the end of May – miles ahead of where anyone thought we would be in mid-April, as far as getting back to normal.

When I was chastised here a couple of weeks ago for my optimism, I simply responded with “In about three months, we’ll know that one of us was very wrong.” Every day that goes by, I am more convinced that I am not wrong on this. If it does run with fans in August, I want some of you that have been so adamant in telling me how wrong I was to at least offer to buy me tenderloin or a beer. If I’m wrong, I know who some of you are, and I’ll do likewise whenever we get back together in Indianapolis.

One silver lining to losing this particular Month of May is that this year was to be the earliest the Indianapolis 500 could possibly run, meaning this would have been the shortest Month of May before the “500”. Next year, the race will be run on the traditional Race Day – May 30, where we will get a full four-week build-up in the Month of May.

But for now, I am not thinking about what didn’t happen in May. I won’t dwell on the Qualifications Weekend, Carb Day, Legends Day and Race Day that we all missed. Nor did I experience the most depressing day of the year – Memorial Day Monday, when the next Indianapolis 500 is a year away, or more. I’m looking forward to what will happen later this summer. But I don’t really want to go through another May like this one.

George Phillips

17 Responses to “Did You Have Month of May Withdrawals?”

  1. I pulled a tv out to my deck, brought a cooler, and watched old Monaco and Indy races. It feels like March part 3 to me so it never really felt like May and it didn’t really bother me much.

  2. .SkipinSC Says:

    George, I couldn’t agree more. Since I haven’t attended the race but twice (2011 and 2018,) since I moved south in 1990. I HAD planned to come in May and still have my Southeast Vista tickets. If health issues (unrelated to COVID-19) allow, I will be there in August, even if has to be in a mask.

    I will probably try to trade up tickets to someplace to get under some sort of cover, (Hello StubHub,) but if humanly possible, I’ll be there .

    That thought kept me going all afternoon Sunday. I ran the NBC Soecial about 40 minutes behind so I could blow through commercials. I also kept wishing I could have played a n exact on Pagenaud and Rossi, but thats just me.

    Kudos to NBC for a well produced and innovative production. Special praise to Mike Tirico who closed the broadcast with a brief essay that brought crabby old me to tears.

    • Skip, what does, “I also kept wishing I could have played a n exact on Pagenaud and Rossi” mean?

      • SkipinSC Says:

        A vague gambling reference: gambler’s dream is knowing how an event will turn out before you have to bet it. An EXACTA means you pick at least two finishers in the proper order.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    I received an email from a contact in Brownsburg regarding May 25th, 2020 ‘race day.’

    “It was a strange weekend without the race that’s for sure. Race day would have been hot and humid but it would have gotten completed. It did rain late in the day though….. “

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I think the promise of the race in August and the fact that so many other things in our lives are disrupted as well has made not having the 500 in May a little less weird than it otherwise would have been. I imagine it was somewhat similar during the world wars too, with folks having other major matters commanding their attention.

    Even so, I felt compelled to draw a modern Indycar across from a 1940s era Indycar in my sketchbook with the caption “Silent Mays”.

  5. Tony Geinzer Says:

    This is a deflating move all around and I was almost expecting Modifieds, the Gatornationals, or the Coca Cola 600 returning to a Red Hot Spotlight. Almost and most 500 Fans would not have stood for it.

    I feel like it is a beg to differ move and the annoyance board would be up with another Red Hot Summer of Pagenaud, NBC’s Coverage (I would feel like Indianapolis 500’s Coverage should be on ABC, or at least a stronger separate but unrelated with NHRA or NASCAR Same Day, but that is a different story) and the real qualm would be Home and the Pride in the Home (Springfield Greats and Knoxville Heroes) and not just Indianapolis 0-fers.

    • I’m sorry, but what are you talking about? It’s hard to tell.
      What is a deflating move?
      What would most 500 fans “not have stood for…?”
      What does this sentence mean, “…a beg to differ move and the annoyance board would be up with another Red Hot Summer of Pagenaud, NBC’s Coverage?”
      What you don’t you understand about IMS having a contract with NBC?
      What does this sentence mean: “… and the real qualm would be Home and the Pride in the Home (Springfield Greats and Knoxville Heroes) and not just Indianapolis 0-fers.”?

      I’m sorry, but en Anglais s’il te plait?

  6. For me each day is the same and I have to work hard to figure out what’s what. May went by so quickly that I didn’t realize it was even May. Taped the 500 replay and plan to watch it soon. Glad to hear it was a good show. So looking forward to Texas next Saturday and am very happy it will be on the Big Peacock instead of on cable. I do hope IndyCar can reschedule some of the postponed races for September or October. Not holding my breath, but then again I didn’t think St. Pete would be the closer. Fingers crossed for Indy in August with fans. Stay well everyone.

  7. James T Suel Says:

    George I was upset with no race in may, but I have adjusted. It’s just been such a huge part of my life since I saw my first in 1960 , I 9 years old . Have been there every year since. But I do believe it will run in august and with the full crowd. I also think this virus has been overplayed for political reasons. I believe Roger Penske is one of the smartest men I have ever met. I still believe he will do what’s best for the 500 and racing in general.

  8. Yannick Says:

    The lack of a season so far has not got me excited at all about racing.

    I feel lucky that I’ve managed a bicycle tour or three with friends, one at a time, since the beginning of spring. This is the kind of movement I crave at the time, not sitting in front of a screen to watch racing. Because I sit in home office in front of a screen every work day anyway.

    But I did scroll through the saved webcasts of he 6-race iRacing / Indycar joint venture, only to find it utterly weird that drivers would throw away their chance of a decent result near the end to do something, well, petty.

  9. Big Mac Says:

    I’ve got several points to make.

    First off, you say, “A couple of weeks ago, someone decided to tell me how wrong I was by resorting to the same tired old rhetoric used by both political parties and turning this into a political matter. Since when is my desire to go to the Indianapolis 500 a political agenda?”
    I think that “someone” is me, so I’d like to respond. My post was responding to a post by you that began, “Trust me. The Indianapolis 500 will run in August, with fans.” I thought that degree of optimism was unwarranted then, and I think it’s still unwarranted. If I thought then (or now) that it was reasonable to expect the number of COVID cases to decline to a de minimis level by mid-August, the I might have shared your optimism. But I saw no reason to expect that to happen on its own, without some sort of plan to make it happen. A comprehensive national testing-and-tracing program might have been able to bring about that outcome, but Trump decided to wash his hands of it, and while there have been improvements in the testing rate due to state-level efforts, we’re still nowhere near where we’d need to be to bring the incidence of the disease down significantly, as compared to the gradual downward drift we’ve seen over the last several weeks. (I’ll point out in passing that Indiana is 48th in the nation in terms of tests performed relative to tests needed, so that’s a bad sign. See https://twitter.com/youyanggu/status/1264666253974573056/photo/1.) Another approach was mask-wearing. I think that would help a lot, too. But we certainly don’t seem to have anywhere near the almost-universal level of mask-wearing that we’ve seen in countries that have suppressed the disease far below the levels here, and we’ll never get it as long as the president is making fun of people wearing masks. So while you may think that I’m injecting politics into the discussion, I think you’re demanding that I ignore the elephant in the middle of the room. Political considerations are the reason why we’re not doing the things that we really need to do to quash the virus, and they underlie the reason why I think that your assertions were incorrect.

    So where are we now? Let’s look to South Korea. They’ve obviously managed this virus much better than we have. Maybe we should try to learn something from them. The KBO, their baseball league, began play a few weeks now, without fans. They planned to bring fans back later this season. But yesterday, they put those plans on hold, in response to a recent spike in COVID cases. Specifically, they reported 79 new cases yesterday, which was the most in eight weeks. The US had 23,000 new cases reported yesterday. On a per capita basis, our current positive test rate is 45 TIMES the “spike” that caused the Koreans to put their plans to bring back the fans on a back burner. I don’t see any plausible reason to believe that the new case rate here will plummet to anything near the South Korean rate by mid-August, so a decision to go ahead and bring fans in anyway amounts to the conclusion that the Koreans are being unnecessarily conservative.

    Are they? Quite possibly, but one thing that we know about this disease is that we don’t know very much about this disease. Predictions made at the beginning of each month are invalidated by the end of that month. That uncertainty is the reason why conservatism is justified in this case. I’d like to attend my 31st Indy 500 in August. I’d also really, really, really like for the 500 not to become a larger version of the infamous Atalanta-Valencia Champions League soccer game in February (https://www.si.com/soccer/2020/03/25/atalanta-valencia-coronavirus-champions-league-san-siro-milan-italy), which led to countless deaths in Italy and Spain. If there’s even a one percent chance of the latter happening, then I think the decision is an easy one: Run the race without fans.

    Here’s where we come to a point of agreement: You say that you have faith in Roger Penske to make the correct call. So do I! I certainly place very little faith in politicians, who (with a few prominent exceptions) can’t see past the next election (if they can even see that far).

    I wouldn’t read anything into the fact that IMS is making preparations for fans to attend the July 4 race. Penske’s simply preserving his options there. But in the end, Penske will always take the long view. His decisions will be based on fact, not emotion. He’s not going to do something that’s irresponsible. In the absence of a comprehensive testing-and-tracing regime, it appears that the best way to minimize the spread is to do what Japan has done (described here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/japan-ends-its-covid-19-state-emergency). In a related vein, this article (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/why-do-some-covid-19-patients-infect-many-others-whereas-most-don-t-spread-virus-all) explains that “restricting gatherings where superspreading is likely to occur will have a major impact on transmission.” The takeaway in either case: avoid events with crowds. And, in recognition of the immense harm that could result—even if it’s unlikely—if the 500 proceeds with the full complement of fans, I think he will ultimately come to the conclusion that either no fans, or at most a significantly restricted number of fans (if they can figure out a way to maintain social distancing), will be permitted to attend the 500.

    Again, I’d love to be wrong, and to be on the hook to buy you both a beer and a tenderloin. I think the biggest weakness in my argument is that the 500 is held outdoors. But that soccer game was held outdoors as well.

    • Oh, don’t worry, you are wrong. It’s a nasty flu bug and nothing more, and I’ve had two acquaintances pass away from it and a good friend hospitalized. We had the same thing happen (from China I might add) in 1969 AND THEY STILL HELD WOODSTOCK! What about 1918? No stay at home BS then! This has all been ginned up to destroy a president they have thrown the kitchen sink at to no avail, and this won’t work either. WE ARE PISSED, and if you think that dullard idiot Biden will beat our fabulous president then you are dumber than I already think you are.

      Get out of here with your doom and gloom nonsense. There is NO WAY Roger Penske will run the 500 without fans. PERIOD. If he has to wait until October to do so he will. This has been a complete takeover of our way of life by a bunch of Liberal Socialist wackos who don’t know any more about science than they do about fornicating!

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