Still Glad it’s August

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who contacted me via phone call, text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or commenting on this website. July was a very rough month for us. Susan’s cancer diagnosis at the first of the month was bad enough, but then my mother suddenly passed away early last week to put a put a period on just a horrible month. Support and concern from the IndyCar community has been incredible and a huge help. Many of you contacted me in some form or fashion to express your condolences. Paul Dalbey and his wife, Kelli, even sent us flowers – which was very thoughtful and much-appreciated.

I also want to send out a special thank-you to John Oreovicz for filling in here a couple of times this week. I’m not exactly sure when John and I became friends, but I’m guessing it was four or five years ago. You will not find two people more opposite in most areas, but we both love IndyCar Racing and we have built a pretty solid friendship from there. He also loves to give me grief about my social media countdown to the Indianapolis 500 each year.

Susan and I have met up with Oreo a few times at Dawson’s each May (and even this past December, when the Titans played at the Colts). Last May, when I stayed for the whole week of practice, he and I grilled steaks at his home one night (his motor racing book collection is rivaled only by his race car model collection). He came to Nashville last summer for a concert, and we met up for a couple of adult beverages beforehand. He’s a good guy, who is highly opinionated and sticks to his principles. Our opinions sometimes clash, but we never allow a difference of opinion to ruin a good beer.

When he saw my Facebook post regarding my mother the night she died, he immediately contacted me and offered to do a couple of guest posts – completely unsolicited. That’s what friends do. They don’t say “Let me know if I can do anything”. Instead, they just tell you what they are going to do and don’t make you ask for it.

I cannot overemphasize how much I appreciated him doing that. I really needed the time off, but I didn’t want to let this site just sit with the Indianapolis 500 coming up. His offer was very timely and I took him up on it. So John, Paul and all the many others who sent me their condolences – I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. July is now thankfully in my rearview mirror. August has got to be better, right?

Well, so I thought until this past Tuesday.

Please understand, I am not comparing the loss of the Indianapolis 500 to the loss of my mother or the serious illness that has come to my wife. But through the adversity of July, I was really looking forward to two weekends in August that would bring some joy to us. That joy was taken away on Tuesday, when it was announced that the Indianapolis 500 would be run with no fans in the stands.

Opinions are wide and varied on this topic. There are the non-racing fans that questioned the sanity or even the legalities of such a large gathering, despite the fact that there was enough room to pull it off. A solid plan was in place, but that didn’t matter to those that didn’t want to see a single fan enter the gates at 16th and Georgetown.

There are also plenty of racing fans that thought even having eighty-thousand fans on the grounds was reckless. Many of them have been a little annoying gloating over the fact that they were right, when they said they saw no way fans could attend. I can’t fault them. I predicted as late as June that the race would run with a full complement of fans. Had I been right, I would have gloated just as much as they are.

On the other side of the spectrum are the hard-core racing fans that are extremely bitter that Roger Penske had told then that if the Indianapolis 500 could not be run with fans in attendance, it would not be run. Now that he has seemingly reversed course, he is Public Enemy No.1 in their eyes. There is nothing on this earth as fickle as an embittered IndyCar fan.

I cannot describe how deflated I felt, when I saw the news that fans could not attend this year’s Indianapolis 500. But mine was a feeling of sadness, not anger. Who would I be angry at? Roger Penske? I think he wanted fans there even more than I did, if that’s possible. Everything he has done regarding the Indianapolis 500 was done with the fan in mind. He didn’t want to shut fans out of the Indy GP/Brickyard weekend, but he did so to appease local officials and not do anything that might put fans in jeopardy of not being able to attend the Indianapolis 500 a few weeks later. Unfortunately, the pandemic numbers turned against him in Marion County (Indianapolis).

Not only am I saddened for Roger Penske, who is seeing his first Indianapolis 500 as an owner devolve into an absolute nightmare – I’m saddened for many others, including the fans. I feel sorry for Simon Pagenaud. Although he has been the reigning champion for almost fifteen months, he will not receive the adulation that most reigning champions enjoy the next May. I also feel for whoever wins this year’s race. The crowning glory of his or her career will be celebrated in relative silence. And they will only have nine months to savor this very unique win, before having to defend their win next May (hopefully). It’s just a sad situation, all the way around.

Roger Penske, Doug Boles and Mark Miles had their hands tied. They and their respective staffs worked diligently over the summer to ensure that this race could be run with the 25% of capacity fans that still felt comfortable enough to attend. Ironically, I received my new reassigned set of tickets in the mail on Wednesday – the day after the announcement came that they were worthless.

When May 24th rolled around, it didn’t really bother me that the Indianapolis 500 was not being run that day – mainly because I knew I’d be going to it in three months. When I sit down to watch it in a little over two weeks, and I’m watching it on television – that will bother me.

Personally, it may be for the best considering what we have going on right now. Susan just completed Round Two of chemo yesterday; which consists of six hours at the treatment center, followed by two more days on a portable pump they send her home with. Race Weekend would be coming off of Round Three, when her immune system would be rather depleted. We had about decided she wouldn’t go, but she insisted I go. I was making full plans to go without her. I wouldn’t enjoy it near as much without her, but I was going. I could have picked up the virus there and brought it home to her. In her condition, that could have been disastrous. There is some great news to share about her health, but I’m going to let her tell about it here at some point.

So while I’m terribly disappointed that I’ll miss being at the Indianapolis 500, I know I gave it my best shot. The only thing that was going to keep me from going was if they shut the gates, and that’s exactly what happened. I also take solace in knowing that we are all in the same boat. None of us are going.

But I have no ill will toward anyone, especially Roger Penske. He gave it his best shot too. It’s just another by-product of the worst year any of us have lived through. Regardless of the fact that fans are locked out of the Indianapolis 500, it’s still August. That means the terrible month of July is still in our rearview mirror. Based on what we went through this past July, that’s a good thing.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Still Glad it’s August”

  1. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    Good to have you back George. Great that John Oreovicz could fill in too. Look forward to hearing the positive health news. I’m bummed about missing what would have been Indy #42 for me (and 28 in a row) but I understand it and kind of expected it. Now hoping for a full and undelayed Indianapolis 500 in 2021.

  2. For those not in Indiana we’ve been adding 800-900 new cases a day for the last couple weeks and yesterday we topped 1,000. People here have given up on social distancing or being smart and only wear masks when they’re forced to. While I wanted nothing more than to see race cars at Indy I’ll admit I’m somewhat relieved to not have to make a decision that may have put me and my father in a dangerous position. It sucks, and I’m sad, but if things had gone badly it would have been a bad situation for the series and the track. I am happy we still get to watch the race from home though, I’d rather have a watered down 500 than no 500 at all, my soul needs it.

  3. George, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Perhaps someday soon we can enter the Speedway gates again…. 🏁

  4. First off, George, my condolences. You’ve had an incredibly rough time lately.

    I didn’t really have a good answer for today’s poll. I hope you won’t take this as gloating, but I was glad that IMS announced that fans would not be permitted to attend. Not because I had opted out and my tickets for next year were paid for already, as that would have been the case regardless of whether fans were permitted to attend this year’s race or not. Nor was I happy that those who, like you, were looking forward to attending the face now would not be able to go. If that was the case, then I’d hope that something would happen that would eliminate the 500 forever, and that’s not what I hope.

    I won’t belabor the point because I’ve made it in previous posts, but I must disagree as to whether IMS’s plan was “solid.” While I’m sure that it would have been competently executed, I thought that holding the race at even 25 percent attendance (which would have meant at least 30 percent in the grandstands, and according to one writer actually would have been far more than that) posed an unacceptably high risk. That is the reason why I was glad that IMS reached that same conclusion.

    I think the role that IU Health played in this was critical. They’re a business partner of IMS, after all, so they’re not going to casually throw out opinions. I think it’s clear that they issued their statement regarding whether fans should be allowed to attend the race with the intent of having an effect, and although IMS’s initial response to that statement was uncharacteristically defensive and churlish, it certainly appears to have that effect. In the end, IMS did the right thing. Back on May 29, I wrote, “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.” That’s what he did, and I think that when we look back upon this, we’ll be thankful for that.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I thought IMS’ initial response to IU Health was understandable and forgivable, though. To have such an influential partner publicly disagree with the plan that the Speedway had already spent much time and effort working on surely left IMS feeling a bit betrayed.

      • It’s apparent that IMS has been closely negotiating things behind the scenes before they’re rolled out publicly. Recall how Gov. Holcomb’s original statewide reopening plan was timed so that the very first day when large crowds would be permitted just happened to be the day of the GMR Grand Prix? It was even called “Back on Track.” Similarly, the Marion County plan setting attendance at 25 percent of capacity just happened to match the IMS plan for 25 percent attendance that had been issued the day before. The document that GMR—also an IMS business partner—issued vouching for the 25 percent plan also read as though it was a negotiated document.

        Given that background, I strongly suspect that there was continuing contact between IMS and IU Health on this issue. IMS told the Star, “Despite attempts by our organization to engage with IU Health leadership, we have not received a single suggestion from IU Health as to how our approach might be improved.” Reading between the lines, that suggests to me (and I could be wrong, as I don’t have any inside information) that while IMS and IU Health have been in touch, there was a fundamental disagreement in that IU Health was telling IMS wanted to focus on trying to improve their approach—i.e., to develop procedures that would permit it conduct a race with fans as safely as possible—and IU Health had no interest in helping to improve the approach because they felt the approach was wholly misguided, in that permitting fans to attend was simply going to be unsafe, period.

        So, I don’t think this is a situation where IMS was blind-sided. If my intuition is correct, then it suggests that eventually IU Health decided to go public because they felt like they had no other choice.

        • billytheskink Says:

          You described IMS’ initial statement as “uncharacteristically defensive and churlish”. I very much agree. I would, however, argue that such an uncharacteristically unmeasured response is indicative of surprise. Disappointing surprises invite frustrated answers, it isn’t right but it is human nature.

          I do not doubt for a second that IMS had done a lot of negotiating in its attempt to run this year’s 500 with some fans in attendance. That was surely a large portion of the “time and effort” that I noted was put into their plan. Like you, I also suspect that the plan was discussed with IU Health. I am less sure that that IU Health’s disagreement (or at least lack of endorsement) of the plan was known to IMS, but I would not deny the possibility. Still, even viewing IMS in the least altruistic light, one in which they knew of IU Health’s disagreement and perhaps expected them to simply roll over, allows for the Speedway to be surprised by the response.

          In any event, given the confidence with which IMS announced AND moved forward with the 25% capacity plan (they acquired sanitizer and PPE supplies, printed and sent out 70,000+ tickets, installed COVID-oriented signage, etc), I really do not think they expected a public disagreement from IU Health or anyone else they may have dealt with in their discussions and negotiations.

  5. Happy to step up in your time of need, George. As you (and Dionne Warwick) said, that’s what friends are for.

    Also, it appears we have John, Paul, and George…who is our Ringo?

  6. billytheskink Says:

    For your sake in particular, George, and for the sake of all of us Indycar fans, I am also glad that it is August and that the 500 is around the corner. Please know that you and Susan are continually in my prayers.

    As with every race that has been cancelled or run without fans, this is sad and frustrating for those who wanted to attend even as it is understandable and likely the right decision. Are there more critical issues facing the world than whether or not the 500 would run with fans in attendance? Sure, but that does not mean that anyone needs to pretend that this isn’t hard.

  7. James T Suel Says:

    Glade you are back George. Wishing you and Susan all the best. As for as the 500 without fans it was sad for me. This will be the first time since 1960 that I won’t be there from fast Friday thru raceday. But I also feel bad for the speedway and its management. I worry that who ever wins this year will lose some of the magic that only Indy can bring..i think this decision may be the hardest Roger Penske has ever made. Again all the best to you and your wife, hope to get to meet you some may!

  8. So glad you are back, George. I think of you two a lot and am hoping for the best in Susan’s fight.

    I have my IC practice schedule printed and ready to go for next week. Not sure I am going to make 6 am on Wednesday tho. It is very sad that the Speedway will be so quiet the next two weeks, but at least the race will be run and that is a consolation. I didn’t attend races until 2012 and have been trying to get to away races each year. I try not to pout too much about not attending any racing this year. Let’s hope for a better year for all in 2021.

  9. SkipinSC Says:

    George, while the absence of fans for this year’s 500 makes me curious about the finances, those concerns are miniscule compared to the trials you two have faced in July. Take in and enjoy the race with Susan.

    Hopefully, you both can celebrate your anniversary there next year. Kathy and I send you both our continued prayers as well as condolences for the loss of your mother. Perhaps we might share a libation or two at Dawson’s next May, God willing.

    As to the race itself, I hope that it is a close, safe, and fast race, one that will be remembered for those things rather than COVID, angry and disappointed fans, or some further problem.

  10. Condolences to you and wishing a full recovery to your wife.

    Thanks to John Oreovicz for helping out with those 2 cameo articles at this time.

    All the best.

  11. Baseball is doing the cutouts of fans in the stands what do you think about IMS have fans cutouts ?

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