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Racing Roundup: Why does Indy 500 need spectators?

NASCAR marathon at Pocono, wall-to-wall racing next weekend, and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald June 29, 2020

Many years ago, too many to count, in fact, a guy named Leon Mandell, who was editor of AutoWeek magazine (now a website), co-wrote a book with the late Formula One and Indy car star, Peter Revson. Called “Speed with Style,” it was a great read.

I have two copies. Naturally, I can’t find either one. So I will have to paraphrase from memory.

Writing about Revson and the other top racers of the day, Mandell was surprised to find they had little knowledge, or interest, in anything having to do with the real world. Racing was all they thought about.

“Some day, they will drive out of Watkins Glen, down that long and winding road to the circuit’s entrance, and when they get there, there will be nothing left except a burned-up, still-smoking, tree. One, single, solitary tree. Revson (or one of the others) will look around and say: ‘What happened?’ World War III would have been fought and they wouldn’t have known or cared.”

I thought of Mandell and Revson this weekend when I was reading quotes like this in an Indianapolis Star story written by reporter Nathan Brown:

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles: “A 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without fans would be just that – a 500-mile race without fans. And that’s not the Indy 500. In order to have the Indy 500, you have to have fans.”

2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan: “There’s no way you can run that race without fans, and for me, there is no point for me to do that – because that’s why I race there. That’s why I became who I became.”

IndyCar driver Zach Veach: “An Indy 500 without fans is an Indy 500 I don’t wanna race. The fans are what make that experience.”

As if in order to have the Belmont Stakes, you have to have fans.  Uh, no. But I digress.

It makes you wonder if – as Mandell was surprised to find out – any of these people are aware of what is going on in the world these days. I don’t mean to sound insulting, but here is the news: As of Sunday afternoon, there had been 10,192,727 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed on this earth with 503,122 people killed by it. Of those deaths, 125,724 were in the United States, which is not in good shape these days.  

Texas and Florida opened bars and restaurants but had to retreat because of the subsequent explosion of new cases. Can you imagine opening up arenas and stadiums and allowing thousands of people to enter – thousands more than could ever cram themselves into a bar or eatery? That explosion would become an atomic bomb.

So it makes you wonder why anyone would be actively planning to hold an event where upwards of 150,000 people might attend. I know the Indy 500 is nine weeks away (it’s scheduled to be held Aug. 24), but still: this plague is not going to just pack up and go away.

As America has opened up – and early in this pandemic, I wrote a column


suggesting that it was just as important to care for the economic health of a nation as it was to treat illness brought on by the virus – the number of cases has increased. And one of the reasons is because many people are refusing to wear the masks that I was talking about in that column at the start of the pandemic and which others have focused on since.

I know how many Americans feel. I have Libertarian tendencies myself. But this virus is something you don’t fool around with and there is no question that a mask can go a long way to preventing the wearer from contracting this deadly disease and protects others from getting it from you because, yes, some people have it, don’t know it, and are passing it on to literally everyone they meet.

The Speedway is saying that if you’re over 65 you should consider staying home and they will hand out hand sanitizer and masks, although it will not be mandatory for the masks to be worn. This is a strange decision, considering the IndyCar drivers – like the NASCAR drivers before them – will undoubtedly all be wearing them when out of the cars. So you’ll have the race drivers wearing masks and large numbers of the people in the grandstands who won’t be wearing masks and that seems kinda dumb to me.

I’m sure the Speedway will somehow protect itself from liability should people get sick as a result of attending the race, but if the Indiana health-care system is overwhelmed because thousands of Indy 500 fans fall ill, I suggest the negativity associated with the decision to run the race will overwhelm the good will it’s built up over the years. Remember, this race has changed hands in the last year and that good will is held by the old owners, not the new.

There’s nothing wrong with cancelling the 2020 renewal of the world’s most famous race. Or holding it without fans. I’m watching the end of the Pocono NASCAR Cup race as I write this and there’s isn’t a spectator in the place. I don’t care if there are people in the grandstands anyway because I’m not watching them; my eyes are on the drivers and the great race on the track.

The most important thing in all this is everybody’s health. To repeat: this is a deadly disease and much as we all love our racing, and particularly the Indianapolis 500, it will not be worth it if even one person isn’t around for the next one as a result of attending this one.


Rain played havoc with NASCAR’s weekend at Pocono where they planned to run races in all three traveling divisions – Cup, Xfinity and trucks. And the Cup series had a double-header Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday truck race was rained out and held Sunday morning. Just about everything was late starting. They got it all in, but it was close.

I was talking to Jim Bray of Brantford about this. Bray was the second Canadian to race in the Daytona 500 (after Richard Foley of Montreal) and also raced on the NASCAR Grand National circuit (before the Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, Monster Energy, Sprint, etc.) for a couple of years. He was saying he raced in the first Pocono (Purolator) 500 in 1974. “It rained then, too,” he said, laughing. “I think it was a two- or three-day deal. Can’t remember exactly. I didn’t last long – broken sway bar. Richard Petty won.”

Richard Petty doesn’t drive any more but his Richard Petty Motorsports still enters a team in Cup competition. His driver is Bubba Wallace, who finished 22nd Saturday and 20th Sunday in a race that finished just before dark (no lights at Pocono) after being held up by rain and, in particular, lightning.

Denny Hamlin won the Sunday race, his sixth at Pocono, tying Jeff Gordon for most wins at the three-corner speedway in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Kevin Harvick was second and Eric Jones third. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race earlier Sunday while Brandon Jones won the trucks race in the morning. Canadians Alex Labbe and Raphael Lessard both crashed out of the Xfinity and trucks races, respectively. On Saturday, it was Harvick in Cup with Hamlin second and Aric Almirola third.

Hanlin Pocono

You know, I can’t stand Kyle Busch for awhile, then he does something spectacular and I think he’s so good he should be in Formula One, and then he goes and does something stupid and now he’s in my bad books again. Sunday, in the second Cup race of the weekend, Ryan Blaney (who won last Monday’s rain-delayed Talladega race) got into the back of Rowdy and spun him into the wall. These things happen. He drops his window netting, which is the NASCAR signal that he’s okay, and then – as other cars are swerving to miss him in the middle of the track – he throws his water bottle (or something like a water bottle) out the window. I suppose I should have said “tossed,” but the fact of the matter is that he threw a missile onto the speedway, endangering other drivers. I hope he gets fined.

Racing in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey has been thrown a curve by the imposition of a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering those states from nine states in particular where the pandemic has really reared its ugly head. Among the states are Florida and Texas, of course, but also both Carolinas. This could threaten the NASCAR races at Watkins Glen, which has already seen the cancellation of the historic racing weekend there. And Ohsweken Speedway’s (Six Nations Reserve near Brantford) June 6 Rev’s Full Throttle Triple Crown Showdown has been cancelled for a year because of the New York quarantine and the closing of the Canada-U.S. border.

Alex Zanardi remains in serious condition in hospital after he was injured in that cycling event in Italy recently. Like just about everybody else who reported on this incident, I called it a race. I have since been told this is not correct. In fact, my friend Pat Caporali, late of the IndyCar PR team, messaged me to say that Zanardi wasn’t in a race, that he was part of a relay across Italy designed to help lift the spirits of people following the COVID-19 quarantine period. “It was part of an organization he represents to spread positivity and bring attention to paralympic athletes. He was riding with both disabled and able-bodies cyclists. He was actually at the back of the group and definitely not racing for position.”

Williams F1

Okay, get ready for wall-to-wall racing next weekend. Saturday, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (no spectators for this one), the IndyCar Series will race on the road course (Sportsnet) and Toronto’s Dalton Kellett will be making his first start in the big league, driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. I plan to have a conversation with Kellett this week, heading into the weekend, and will write about it here on wheels.ca. The Indy race will be followed by a round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Sunday, the first Formula One race of the season will take place in Austria. Two Canadians will be racing, Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi, and Sofina Foods of Toronto is now (apparently) the primary sponsor of the Williams F1 team – at least according to photographs. Sunday afternoon, the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Cup race will be held at Indianapolis. All NASCAR and F1 races will be televised by TSN.

And that’s it for this week.