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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 33: Remembering the 2020 Indy 500

Today’s question: What do you remember most about the 2020 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23, 2020, the first “500” held outside of May and without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Curt Cavin: The obvious answer is the Indy 500 held amid empty grandstands, but I suspect Zach and Paul will focus on that. I’ll remember Takuma Sato draped in a Japanese flag, fully comprehending the magnitude of his accomplishment. Honestly, I was glad it wasn’t a first-time winner because it would have been a tempered celebration. But since Sato had been there – to victory lane – in 2017, he knew how to do that.

Zach Horrall: When I look back on the 2020 Indianapolis 500, I will obviously think of the lack of race fans and how monumental that race was for its empty grandstands and for being in August. But it’s the way in which I remember that: The race had just ended, and Takuma Sato has been lifted onto Victory Podium. I was walking down pit lane toward Turn 4, and I could hear Takuma and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team celebrating as clear as day. I was somewhat confused as to what I was hearing until I looked back and realized it was the post-race celebration, which I only heard because it was bouncing off the empty, metal grandstands and nobody was there to cheer him on. That was the moment I truly understood the gravity of a spectator-less Indy 500 and how I never wanted to experience that again.

Paul Kelly: First, the 104th Indianapolis 500 was a great race, with a popular winner in Takuma Sato, which made the lack of fans in the stands even more of a shame. But the moment that still sticks with me is hearing Dr. Elvis Francois and Dr. William Robinson singing the national anthem during their soundcheck Saturday afternoon, Aug. 22, in preparation for the pre-race festivities the next day. That’s not uncommon: The “Star-Spangled Banner” artist always does a soundcheck performance the day before the race that must be a treat for people living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Speedway. But then it hit me: The beautiful sound echoing off the empty grandstands during the soundcheck would be almost the same on Race Day due to the lack of fans. That was a bummer. Thankfully the 2020 race was fantastic, and we were able to welcome fans back to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in May 2021.

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