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No. 6: Fans See New-Look IMS for First Time at Harvest GP
No. 6: Fans See New-Look IMS for First Time at Harvest GP

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The table was set perfectly for Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans Feb. 14, 2020.

Just five weeks into his ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR, Roger Penske announced a host of improvements to the 111-year-old facility to enhance the fan experience.

These included technology upgrades such as LED video boards, a giant Media Wall on the back of the IMS Pagoda facing the Pagoda Plaza and 5G wireless connectivity around the 1,000-acre facility. Also planned were various infrastructure improvements, such as renovated bathrooms and concession stands, improved signage, an expansion of the spectator area between the main grandstand and Georgetown Road, lights at the Main Gate and picnic areas around the facility.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing the postponement of the GMR Grand Prix from May 9 to July 4 and the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge from May 24 to Aug. 23.

Penske and the IMS Facilities team kept their collective feet to the floor despite the schedule delays, continuing unabated with the aggressive, multimillion-dollar improvement plan. Full speed ahead, the only gear in which The Captain and his crew operate.

It was hoped that fans could see the gleaming improvements during the historic inaugural NASCAR-INDYCAR event over Fourth of July weekend. But that was not to be, as COVID-19 health regulations prevented spectators from that event. The same scenario occurred during the 104th Indianapolis 500 in August.

But state and local officials allowed a limited number of spectators – with temperature checks at the gate, mandatory mask use and social distancing – for the Harvest GP presented by GMR NTT INDYCAR SERIES race weekend Oct. 2-3.

When gates opened at IMS for the first time in 2020 under azure skies and bright sunshine Oct. 2, fans were greeted by elbow bumps from Penske and IMS President Doug Boles. It was a cathartic scene of mutual gratitude, one of the first signs of “normal” in an otherwise unprecedented year.

And once those fans entered the facility, they were wowed by the improvements. The praise was unanimous, the joy ubiquitous.

It took a more challenging path to get there than expected in February, but the new era at IMS finally was underway. The facility gleamed like the early fall sun blazing over the track, and fans’ smiles shined just as brightly.

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