The Angst Has Ramped Up

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Earlier this week the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made two major announcements, and both created a stir for some reason. On Tuesday it was announced that the Indianapolis 500 would be run at only 25% crowd capacity, instead of the 50% that had been announced a few weeks ago.

I don’t know if people just read the headlines and panicked, or if they actually read the article and decided to put their own spin on it on social media. Whatever the case, social media was ablaze with the news that IMS was again cutting ticket allotments for next month’s Indianapolis 500, which is now less than a month away. The people spinning this were certain that this was in direct response to the spike in cases, and a sign that the race would surely be cancelled within the next couple of weeks.

What these people failed to do was read what was actually being said. Had they put forth the effort to read the facts, they would have learned that once IMS went through all of the new requests that were due by July 6, it turns out that only approximately 87,000 people that had already purchased the 175,000 tickets that were already sold, actually still wanted to attend this year’s race. This means The Speedway will be issuing credits for 88,000 tickets towards next year’s race.

A total of 88,000 ticket holders have chosen to not attend next month’s Indianapolis 500. 87,000 attendees roughly equal 25% of full capacity. So instead of saying only 25% of the seats will be filled by all of the people that still choose to go, these people interpreted this non-news as a further reduction by the track. Many went on to say that it’s obvious that the race isn’t going to happen and they should just cancel it now. Others said that 25% was still too much and to properly social distance, they should only allow 15% at the most.

I saw words like desperate, haphazard and reckless being used to describe Roger Penske, Doug Boles and Mark Miles, and how they had no real direction on how to pull this off. A once-major publication referred to the Indianapolis 500 as an experiment with human guinea pigs.

Many of those same people looked awfully foolish on Wednesday when IMS released their 88-page Safety Plan for the Indianapolis 500. You didn’t have to read very far into it to realize that this wasn’t slapped together overnight. Instead, it was a very thorough and well thought-out and detailed plan, describing every single facet of what everyone could expect from the opening day of practice through the Victory Dinner, the night after the race.

As expected, IMS ramped up its mask policy. Previously, it had been announced that masks would be optional – like at Road America and Iowa. The Safety Plan made it very clear that masks would be required at all times on the grounds. Yellow shirts will be checking at all times. At first, fans will be reminded to put their masks on. Repeated reminders will eventually lead to ejection. Fans are even encouraged to report their fellow fans that are violating the policy.

Just after the plan was released, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a state-wide policy for mask-wearing for the foreseeable future. Was that a coincidence? Probably not. As it turns out, The Speedway has been working with state and local officials on this plan for quite a while. Dr. Virginia Caine – Director of the Marion County Health Department, gave the 88-page plan her blessing. This doesn’t sound like reckless and haphazard behavior by IMS officials – not to me, anyway.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the mask. They are hard to breathe through and for every health expert that says they are essential to defeat the virus, there is another one loaded with information saying masks do more harm than good. Who knows what to believe these days? And I find myself surprised at how much I depended on facial expressions in order to read people. I find it hard to interact with people, while we are both wearing masks. But they are now law here in Nashville, and I’ve learned to put up with them. Having said all that; if I have to wear a mask all day every day over two weekends in order to finally attend the Indianapolis 500 – I’ll gladly do it. In fact, I’d stand on my head in the Pagoda Plaza throughout Carb Day if that meant we could attend.

I won’t go into detail about all of the other safety requirements fans must adhere to if they want to attend this year’s race, but believe me when I say it is thorough. The worst thing I read was that concessions will be limited to pre-packaged food. That most certainly means that if I want a tenderloin while we are in Indiana, I’ll probably have to look somewhere outside of IMS.

The good news is that those that have already bought Bronze and Silver badges will still be able to use them. Of course, many of the coronaphobes are upset over that also.

It seems there is a segment that wants to see the Indianapolis 500 fail. I don’t know if they are proponents of shutting down everything in the name of the virus, or if they are closet Champ Car fans that still want to see this version of IndyCar fall flat on its face. Perhaps they despise Roger Penske and want to see him fail. They enjoy the fact that his first Indianapolis 500 as owner has been pushed back and reduced to a shell of its former self. Whatever the reason, the Legions of the Miserable have been quite vocal this spring and summer in their desire to cancel the Indianapolis 500.

And to those that think that Roger Penske is ever haphazard in his approach to anything, just go read the 88-page Safety Plan. It has his stamp all over it. This man has based his entire approach to life on total preparedness. Do you think he abandoned that way of thinking after he bought IMS and IndyCar?

Each year, I normally have four tickets in Stand A for the Indianapolis 500. This year I requested three of them and chose to get a credit on one of them for next year. My three have been confirmed and we are going. We will be responsible and sensible. We will take extra precautions, just like we did at Road America a couple of weeks ago. We were on two separate airplanes and attended a race that had no attendance restrictions. We are now two weeks removed and we both feel fine. We respect the virus and use common sense in all of our precautions, but I believe in learning to live around the virus and not let it prevent me from living my life. This is our choice.

But for those who do not feel comfortable going this year, that is your choice and you should be respected for making that choice. Everyone has to decide what is best for them.

Some will say that this isn’t about personal choices, but about the potential to spread a deadly disease for the sake of an auto race. That is why IMS officials went to so much trouble to devise a plan in conjunction with local and state officials. I will feel much more comfortable going to a race with 87,000 fans present than I would a dirt track that decided to defy a local order and have 900 people in attendance with no restrictions whatsoever.

I trust Roger Penske and Doug Boles to make the right decisions. I also trust the Marion County and Indiana health officials, when they endorse such a plan. I also think those that called IMS officials desperate, haphazard and reckless; owe Roger Penske, Doug Boles and Mark Miles an apology. They have worked extremely hard in developing a sound plan to keep those that want to go, as safe as possible. They deserve better than what they are getting from so-called fans.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “The Angst Has Ramped Up”

  1. …should be respected for making that decision…but will be labeled as a “coronaphobe”.

    • Fair enough, but here’s the difference…Making the decision not to go is a personal choice. Given her new health issues, my wife may not go. I am not labeling those that choose not to go for their own personal reasons as “coronaphobes”.

      Look how I used the term. It wasn’t toward those that chose not to attend the race. It was about the same people that complain about everything, moaning about allowing Bronze Badges to be used.

      You know exactly who I’m talking about. My definition of a coronaphobe is the militant individual with their own agenda that seeks out anything and everything to complain about regarding the virus. They are the ones back in March who were shaming people, screaming at them in public for not wearing a mask, back when mask-wearing was not that common. I had my own experience in a grocery store in early April, when a woman was backing up while looking at something on a shelf. As I tried to politely squeeze behind her, I grazed her jacket. She immediately turned around and verbally assaulted me by screaming “Six feet! Six feet!”, which started a huge scene in the middle of the store when I replied with a not-so-appropriate response.

      You’re a reasonable guy, and I don’t apply that label towards you just because you fear and respect the virus. However, if I saw you going on social media tirades and rants because you see two guys talking on television, standing only three feet apart and wearing their mask pulled down below their nose – then you would be a coronaphobe.

  2. The plan is impressive and extremely thorough. IMS has even given people who held their tickets an out if they have changed their mind. i saw someone complain about lifting the TV blackout after the ticket commitment deadline. Good grief! I received a call from IMS about receiving credit for my Victory banquet ticket, which is closed to fans.

  3. I guess we’d all figured this viral forest fire would be extinguished by now. But the medical experts are still learning about it and, unless there’s some miracle, we’ll be dealing with it much longer than we thought. So now everyone is figuring out how to live and work and play with the virus still burning. So we try to be responsible and get on with things the best we can. I never thought I’d feel bad for Penske, but man, what a year to make a major purchase. It seems they’re doing the best they can to strike a compromise and I wish them the best. I’m looking forward to the 500 and am still deciding if I want to go over for a couple days. I really want to see the improvements Penske has made to IMS.

  4. The 25% capacity annoucement was made because IMS was in touch with city officials and knew that the requirment county wide was being announced the next day. 25% sports capacity is a county wide requirment now. https://fox59.com/news/coronavirus/mayor-hogsett-to-provide-update-on-covid-19-restrictions-in-marion-county/

    Entertainment, cultural and sports venues will be limited to 25% capacity. If 25% capacity means the event will exceed 250 people, the event organizer will need to obtain advanced approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

  5. Gary Manes Says:

    Great take George. We have ten tickets every year and we are using all of them again. Penske is doing everything right in this pandemic. Looking forward to the race!
    FYI-I make a great “Indy” style tenderloin and live in Nashville so give me a shout lol!

  6. Patrick Says:

    A couple of know-it-all blowhard writers for the Indianapolis Star have been blasting the Speedway for the past few weeks. I, for one, figure Roger Penske is smarter than they are.

  7. 35Salty Says:

    Rather than read an 88 page document, can someone just tell me if I can bring my cooler and have a beverage or two while quickly lifting my mask? Thanks in advance. 🙂 BTW – continued prayers for Susan.

  8. My only concern is this: “Fans are even encouraged to report their fellow fans that are violating the policy.” Sounds like East Germany alive again.

    I am looking forward to the race. I think the reaction to this virus is extreme. Take some simple precautions and live your life. Take a lot more if you have a pre-existing condition that compromises your immune system. But that is true with any illness, not just this current one.

    I was really happy to hear that Qualifications and Carb Day remain open to the public.

    Indycar – Rehire Brad Hockaday.

  9. Most people have been against the opening of everything imaginable. Schools, sports, it’s all gonna be tough for a bit but we have to try to navigate it and manage around it. Most said NASCAR would be shut down in 2 weeks after resuming at Darlington, they made it work. Many said Indycar would infect and kill by going to Texas but it has seemed to work out. My Governor has made it a point to say “we have managed past shut downs, we now have to live with this in our lives for a bit until we can vaccinate against it”. That’s where I am at. I hope, I pray, and I do my best to not be a problem. But we have to get kids in school in some way, we have to put our toe in the water to resuming life. It’s all we can do. Be safe, be mindful and be respectful.

    Also, I have more faith in Roger Penske’s management that I do in nearly any other human. More than the government, my workplace, etc. He knows what he is doing.

  10. Big Mac Says:

    If the topic is attendance limits at the Indy 500, I guess it’s time for me to post, even if I’m a bit late because I was busy yesterday. Before I get going: We’ve learned about Susan’s diagnosis since the last time I posted, so please let her know that she’s in my thoughts.

    You said, “I saw words like desperate, haphazard and reckless being used to describe Roger Penske, Doug Boles and Mark Miles, and how they had no real direction on how to pull this off. A once-major publication referred to the Indianapolis 500 as an experiment with human guinea pigs. Many of those same people looked awfully foolish on Wednesday when IMS released their 88-page Safety Plan for the Indianapolis 500. You didn’t have to read very far into it to realize that this wasn’t slapped together overnight. Instead, it was a very thorough and well thought-out and detailed plan, describing every single facet of what everyone could expect from the opening day of practice through the Victory Dinner, the night after the race.” You concluded that “those that called IMS officials desperate, haphazard and reckless; owe Roger Penske, Doug Boles and Mark Miles an apology. They have worked extremely hard in developing a sound plan to keep those that want to go, as safe as possible. They deserve better than what they are getting from so-called fans.”

    I can’t speak to most of the things you refer to, since I didn’t read them. But I do know about a month ago, I posted a comment here that said: “If they run at 50 percent of capacity, which would take us to about 125,000 people in the grandstands, it sounds like they’re just going to ignore social distancing…. Given what I know now, I think this is a bass-ackward approach to decision-making, I think it’s irresponsible, and I’m truly astonished that Roger Penske would sign onto this.” That’s not far from what those others were saying, so do I owe Penske et al. an apology?

    Hell, no! A month ago, IMS was prepared to run a race with attendance at 50 percent of capacity and without requiring masks. It was obvious to me at the time that wasn’t safe. Penske justified it to the Star by saying, “We can’t shut the world down, shut commerce down,” nonsensically assuming a binary choice between further restricting attendance and shutting the world down. Anyway, it appears that they’ve tacitly acknowledged that their plan wasn’t safe. GMR endorsed proceeding with the race if it was limited to 23-26 percent of capacity and required masks. That suggests that they wouldn’t have endorsed the original plan, which met neither of those criteria. I’m glad that IMS was willing to revise its plans and they deserve credit for doing so. But their earlier plans were, in fact, irresponsible. They didn’t begin with the constraint that the seating plan needed to ensure an appropriate degree of distancing. I called them out on it, they fully deserved it, and I don’t regret it in the slightest.

    While I can’t speak to whether most of the comments that you’re referring to were justified or not, I do think I can speak to one of them, as I’m pretty sure that you were referring to this Gregg Doyel column that was published in Thursday’s Indianapolis Star (https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/columnists/gregg-doyel/2020/07/22/2020-indianapolis-500-happen-fans-ims/5479982002/) when you said that a “once-major publication referred to the Indianapolis 500 as an experiment with human guinea pigs.” Well, Doyel is absolutely right. This weekend, MLB is re-opening, without a single soul in the stands. Soccer games are going on all over Europe, in countries where the current rate of infection is far below that in the US, and they don’t have any fans, either. Other sports, like golf, are taking baby steps to introduce some fans. Racing events have been run in this country, but with considerably lower attendance levels. I think there were 20,000 people at the recent NASCAR race at Bristol, and while I was unable to find attendance figures for their Texas race, they were expecting similar levels. Therefore, even at 25 percent of capacity, the Indy 500 will be by far the most attended event in this country since the beginning of the pandemic. When you’re trying something that hasn’t been tried before, it’s an experiment. So yes, people attending the race are the guinea pigs. But it’s not just them. We’re all the guinea pigs, because if the race turns into a super-spreader event, the increased spread of the virus will affect all of us.

    The fact that IMS has developed a detailed plan for dealing with this, and for attempting to minimize those risks, doesn’t change any of that. I’m not at all surprised that Penske has done this, because, as you’ve correctly stated, that’s totally consistent with the way he’s always done everything. But simply because the experiment has been designed to minimize the risks to participants does not mean that the experiment isn’t an experiment. It’s still an experiment, it still imposes risks, and it’s still wholly legitimate to conclude that it’s a risk that shouldn’t be run.

    And while the current proposal is miles better than the 50 percent/mask-optional plan from a month ago, I still have significant concerns. IMS is planning to run the 500 at 25 percent of “venue capacity.” Since infield capacity will be reduced to 10 percent, that suggests that the grandstands must be at something above 25 percent of their capacity to get to a 25 percent average overall. As I’ve said in the past, that seems a little too high to maintain six feet of social distancing, and in the materials that IMS has put out, I’ve never seen them assert that the seating arrangements will ensure that six feet of distance will be maintained. I assume that they would trumpet that quite loudly if it were the case, so I have to conclude that the seating arrangements won’t meet that criterion. That’s a concern, especially since the six-foot criterion may not be enough in situations where fans are yelling loudly, which has been known to happen at IMS from time to time.

    A bigger concern pertains to mask-wearing. I really don’t see how you can conclude that the evidence on whether masks provide a net benefit is 50/50, but in any case, you’re not the problem: you’re a good guy and you’ll wear your mask, even though you’d rather not. But there seem to be so many people who are so casually willing to endanger others (like some of the people described in this story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/18/covid-pandemic-store-clerk-north-carolina/?arc404=true) that I’m concerned about whether people will actually do it. If just a few refuse, the yellow shirts can handle it. But if it’s widespread? Many countries have significantly reduced the rate of spread of the virus, and they’ve taken a variety of approaches to doing so, but one thing that they all have in common, as far as I can tell, is that none of them contain significant cohorts who actively oppose all efforts to control the spread of the disease. We’ll never get it under control until something similar can be said about the U.S. Unfortunately, I can’t say that now. So there are valid reasons to be concerned.

  11. I live and breathe the Indianapolis 500. But not this year. If you care about your family or fellow citizens attending this event is wrong. Penske is wrong on this one. We all make mistakes. 1995 comes to mind. I don’t care where you live or who you vote for. Run the race with no fans this year and my 29th race can wait.

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