News & Multimedia

No. 1: Indy 500 Moves from May for First Time

Editor’s Note: This is the last 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.

This was a year of seismic news at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, without question.

Roger Penske completed his purchase of the track in early January and announced an aggressive, multimillion-dollar improvement program to the facility in February, focusing on enhancement of the fan experience.

IMS hosted the first joint NASCAR Cup Series-NTT INDYCAR SERIES event weekend in racing history over Fourth of July weekend. The Race for Equality & Change program also was unveiled that weekend, opening new doors of opportunity in motorsports for many people.

A third INDYCAR event took place in the same year at IMS for the first time, the Harvest GP presented by GMR in early October. Beloved IMS Historian Donald Davidson announced his retirement in early December.

But on the Richter scale of news in 2020, perhaps nothing shook the Racing Capital of the World and its fans like the announcement March 26 in which it was revealed the 104th Indianapolis 500 would move from its May 24 date to Sunday, Aug. 23 due to health and safety precautions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the inaugural “500” on May 30, 1911, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” always has taken place during the Month of May. Even the 1986 race, delayed for a week due to rain, was finished Saturday, May 31.

Not this year.

IMS and INDYCAR officials worked diligently with state and local officials to devise health-and-safety measures to allow fans to attend the race Aug. 23. But the continuing pandemic forced those plans to be scuttled, and the 104th edition of the world’s greatest auto race took an even more surreal quality when it was announced Aug. 4 that no fans would be admitted to the facility for practice, qualifications or Race Day.

But flexibility and resilience are among the greatest qualities of race teams and race fans, so the show went on despite the unique circumstances. Drivers and teams adapted to not hearing and feeling the buzz of crowds, and fans followed the action closely through their TV, computer and mobile phone screens instead of from the cavernous grandstands of IMS.

Despite the challenging circumstances, there still was plenty of drama. Marco Andretti captivated fans worldwide with his speed during practice and thrilling run to the pole, the first time the Andretti name was atop the Scoring Pylon since Mario Andretti won the pole in 1987. Takuma Sato burnished his legend with a stirring second victory.

There also was plenty of outreach to fans near and far throughout the event. This included many social media initiatives and a fun, memorable program in which all 33 starters visited the home of an Indy 500 ticket holder in nearby Speedway, Indiana, to deliver a gift bag and good cheer the day before the race, thanking fans for their loyalty.

Sure, Race Morning wasn’t the same with its pared-back pre-race ceremonies and the empty grandstands. But once the green flag flew, fans were treated to yet another spectacular edition of the world’s greatest race.

Drivers pinned their throttle foot to the floor just as hard as ever, crews performed their beautiful, choregraphed ballet on pit stops, and Sato drank and splashed the winner’s glass of milk in Victory Lane just like other, more normal years.

Everyone looks forward to a time when the Indianapolis 500 once again returns to its usual spot as the focus of the racing world in May, not August. Let’s face it: The Month of August doesn’t have quite the same ring as the Month of May.

But in a year in which nothing was normal, the Indianapolis 500 showed the resiliency that has carried it through two world wars, the Great Depression and all sorts of change in both the racing world and society at large.

It’s still “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and the memorable “August race” is the latest chapter in the rich lore of the event.

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