One year after the Indianapolis 500 was held without a single fan in attendance for the first time ever, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway plans to host up to 135,000 fans for the May 30 Indianapolis 500, or 40% of the track's unofficial capacity, Penske Entertainment Corp. officials announced Wednesday. That number of fans, as well as the track's health and safety plan, have been approved by the Marion County Public Health Department.
At that capacity limit, race day at IMS stands to be the highest-attended sporting event in the U.S., and potentially the largest enclosed gathering of people, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year.
In recent weeks, IMS officials had said that the track had sold 170,000 tickets for the 105th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, before an advisory sent out last Thursday requested that ticketholders confirm how many of their ticket allotments they planned to use next month with a deadline of Monday to receive an IMS event credit for next year's race.
IMS president Doug Boles told IndyStar Wednesday that roughly 33,000 total tickets were returned to IMS during that process in exchange for credit. In recent weeks, he said that interested fans have been able to submit an application for tickets and a rough estimate of where they'd like to sit. Fans can continue to do so until the track reaches that 135,000 limit, with the understanding that some additional tickets will likely be returned following Wednesday's announcement.
For those that do attend the race on May 30, mask-wearing will be required and enforced throughout the track unless attendees are eating or drinking. Temperature checks will be required at the gate to receive entry. Social distancing guidelines will be instituted with fans spaced throughout the track's grandstands and enforced elsewhere. The infield spectator viewing mounds will be closed throughout the Month of May Indy 500 events, and no general admission tickets will be sold for race day. Carb Day and Snake Pit concerts have also been canceled for 2021, due to restrictions on infield access.
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As they have done in waves since March, IMS will continue to help in the push to get Hoosiers vaccinated with a special activation around the Month of May. Following their four-day mass vaccination clinic in March where they vaccinated more than 16,000 people, and the 16-day event spread throughout April where they aim to help serve 96,000 doses of the vaccine to Hoosiers, IMS will continue to host drive-up vaccine clinics throughout May until May 27 on days that have not yet been determined. Additonally, the track plans to allow for fans to attend walk-up vaccine centers around the track on some practice days and be vaccinated on-site.
It's part of the reason track officials felt confident in hosting such a large-scale event while the pandemic continues. At the moment, the state sits at an identical 5.1% statewide positivity rate average over the last seven days as was recorded last Aug. 23 on race day. At that point last year, the state was averaging 876 new positive cases per day. As of Tuesday this week, the state is considerably higher at nearly 1,250.
But IMS projects that by race day, nearly 60% of its fans will have been vaccinated, which they believe, along with mask-wearing and spacing, should ensure safety by those who do attend this year's race. A year ago, IMS initially said in July they would allow as much as 50% capacity for the Aug. 23 race, and then fans' demand lowered that projection to 25% on July 21. But on Aug. 4, track officials announced the decision to hold the race without fans due to the significant continued spread of COVID-19 locally and the lack any vaccine at that point.
“The city and state have worked with us to identify the appropriate health and safety precautions so that we can successfully host a limited but very enthusiastic crowd," Boles said in a release. "The health and safety of everyone coming to IMS, along with central Indiana and the Hoosier state, have been paramount throughout this process.”
Added Dr. Virginia Caine, the chief medical officer of MCPHD: "Our vaccination rates, combined with the outdoor nature of the event, make it possible for fans to return to these hallowed grounds for the Indy 500 this year. We are grateful to the IMS team for their collaboration throughout this planning process and appreciate their work to ensure vaccines reach our neighbors."
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy 500 will have about 135,000 fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway