Indy 500 hosts largest crowd since start of pandemic
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The milk is on ice, celebrities are in the house and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is buzzing again both with the roar of engines and the largest crowd at a sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
The Indianapolis 500 will welcome a sold-out 135,000 spectators on Sunday — nine months after the race ran without fans for the first time in its 105-year history — and drop the green flag on a packed house and a party not seen since early 2020.
“We’re just excited to be opening up America,” said Roger Penske, who bought Indianapolis in January 2020, roughly two months before the pandemic shut down the country.
The speedway has 240,000 permanent grandstand seats and space in the infield and suites to accommodate nearly 400,000 on race day. But Penske couldn’t open the gates until October, when only 10,000 a day were permitted into the landmark facility over a three-day weekend for an IndyCar race.
Americans are eager to return to some sort of normalcy. They want their traditions and their sports back, none more so than “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which withstood world wars, the Great Depression and the now the pandemic.
Through vaccinations, more than 90,000 done at the speedway, Penske got the clearance to at last permit 40% attendance.
And so it is with expectation and not anticipation that six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon starts from the pole Sunday for the fourth time at the Indy 500. Dixon is considered the best driver of his generation and trails Mario Andretti by only one victory for second on IndyCar’s all-time wins list. He has just one Indy 500 victory, in 2008, and three runner-up finishes.
Dixon and the four Chip Ganassi Racing entries are the most consistent at Indianapolis leading into the 500. The group includes Tony Kanaan, who at 46 is the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou, who wrecked in Saturday qualifying but rebounded Sunday to qualify sixth alongside Kanaan.
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