IMS delays start of Indy 500, asks fans to vacate grandstands and Snake Pit to seek shelter

Fans pack the walkway by the garages Sunday, May 26, 2024, ahead of the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have delayed the start of today's Indianapolis 500 due to impending inclement weather in central Indiana and have asked the 125,000-plus fans inside the venue to exit the grandstands and the Snake Pit and seek shelter. IMS announced approximately 345,000 tickets were purchased for the race.

The alert came at 11:17 a.m., and IMS noted that pre-race festivities will pause at that point until further notice.

IMS president Doug Boles offered an update at the IMS media center at 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning, noting that such a delay was likely, but Penske Entertainment officials spent the next 30 minutes ensuring that the severe weather cell, which stretches from northern Wisconsin to Nashville, Tenn., would not splinter.

"Given the proximity of lightning moving toward (IMS), a decision has been made to pause the pre-race run of show and move fans out of the grandstands and the Snake Pit," the message read. "Spectators are encouraged to follow the instructions of IMS team members. They should exit the grandstands in an orderly fashion and implement their personal safety plans.

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"The start of the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 will also be delayed. Additional updates on timing will be communicated."

The call to delay the start of the 108th running of the 500 came just as Terre Haute was getting hammered with a deep-red portion of the radar, without a 'window' in sight. In a press conference at 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning, Boles admitted it would be tough to suggest where fans should congregate until the lightning and rain passes -- "You can't predict where the lightning will strike" -- but the call to vacate the grandstands was made soon enough so that fans could exit their seats and even walk back to wherever they parked their cars if they so choose.

Fans will be allowed to reenter IMS if they choose to leave. Track personnel at exit gates will be able to direct fans through the proper procedures on how to ensure they'll be allowed to reenter the facilities when the severe weather dies down.

Bole said that weather experts the track has been consulting with believe this round of storms -- an initial wave of high winds and lightning, followed by a couple hours of rain -- should pass in the 2:30-3 p.m. window, after which the track will be able to start the drying process. Equipped with a fleet of NASCAR's 'air titans', IMS was able to dry the track once during practice week as quickly as 77 minutes.

Should the weather cease around 3 p.m., Boles said he hoped the race would be able to start in the 4:30-5 p.m. window. Should additional pockets of rain hold off until the second visible wave of storms rolls through this evening -- potentially as early as 8 p.m. -- it seems likely IMS should be at minimum be able to crown a 500-winner Sunday night.

Whether they'll have to run all 200 laps, or as few as 101, is unclear.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IMS delays start to Indy 500 as lighting, storms approach