Since childhood, I have lived for the Memorial Day weekend and the Indianapolis 500. Anyone who’s ever watched, anyone who’s ever been to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing knows it’s not hyperbole to state it’s the “greatest” race in the world.
The sentiment’s been acknowledged by the race’s new owner, Roger Penske, by all participants – “You don’t know what Indy means,” cried Al Unser Jr. upon winning his first 500 – by the throngs that wait for the boom of the cannon as they work their way inside the gates. Upwards of 300,000 strong arrive in person to witness 200 laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval; at its 100th running in 2016, the race sold out all tickets.
This very strange year, 2020, the track will be silent on Memorial Day weekend. This pandemic, this worldwide plague is causing a postponement to August 23, the track announced on March 26.
“The Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favorite time of year, and like our fans, I am disappointed that we have had to reschedule the Indianapolis 500,” Penske said. “However, the health and safety of our event participants and spectators is our top priority, and we believe that postponing the event is the responsible decision with the conditions and restrictions we are facing.
“We will continue to focus on ways we can enhance the customer experience in the months ahead, and I’m confident we will welcome fans with a transformed facility and a global spectacle when we run the world’s greatest race,” Penske continued. The 104th Indy 500, now scheduled to take place Sunday, August 23, will air live on NBC, with the official green flag time to be announced at a later date.
Should COVID-19 restrictions currently in place nationwide ease in time, the GMR Grand Prix, originally scheduled for Saturday, May 9, will transition to Saturday, July 4 on the IMS road course as part of an historic double-header featuring the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity Series. This premier racing event will also be televised by NBC on Independence Day and will take place before the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the same IMS road course – the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard.
“For very good reason, this historic pairing will be circled on the calendar of every motorsports fan,” said Doug Boles, IMS president. “We appreciate our friends at NASCAR for their flexibility and support in this matter and will work with them on a memorable, exciting weekend of racing action.”
All planned Indy 500 ancillary events surrounding the original scheduling of the biggest race on the Brickyard oval have been canceled. This includes concerts scheduled for May 22-24.
The new Indianapolis 500 scheduling will include practice sessions on August 12-13, followed by August 14 Fast Friday and Indy 500 qualifying on Saturday and Sunday, August 15-16, with both days of qualifying carried live on NBC. The following week’s schedule begins with hot pit-stop practice sessions on Thursday, August 20 and will include Indy Lights practice and qualifying. The Indy Lights Freedom 100 race, a significantly expanded Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge and final Indianapolis 500 practice takes place on Friday, August 21 (Carb Day), followed by the public drivers’ meeting and full-field autograph session on August 22rd, part of Legends Day presented by Firestone.
As a result of these scheduling changes, there have been updates to the NTT IndyCar Series schedule:
Saturday May 30-May 31: Streets of Detroit races 1 and 2
Saturday June 6: Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday June 21: Road America
Saturday June 27: Richmond Raceway
Saturday July 4: Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
Sunday July 12: Streets of Toronto
Saturday, Jul 18: Iowa Speedway
Sunday August 9: MId-Ohio SportsCar Course
Sunday August 23: Indianapolis 500 Mile Race
Sunday August 30: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway
Sunday Sept 13: Portland International Raceway
Sunday September 20: WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca
TBD Expected Finale: Streets of St Petersburg
These are tough times for all race fans, but the work by Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series to soften the blow of COVID-19 restrictions has to be commended. As for those of us for whom Memorial Day and the Indy 500 are intertwined, it’s another opportunity to relive former races online as we wait for the roar of 33 Indy cars on the greatest racetrack in the world.