Memorial Day weekend has been welded to the history of the Indianapolis 500 since the race’s inception in 1911. It quickly became obvious that the coronavirus crisis, when juxtaposed against the massive logistical effort to the present the world’s biggest one-day sporting event, was probably going to claim the race. just like the Tokyo Olympics. That became a reality last week when the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 was pushed back to August 23, pushing the race out of the month of May for the first time ever. Initially, at least, it was like learning that the Super Bowl was going to be played in October. The whole thing seemed seriously off kilter until you did some close examination of several racing schedules that have been unceremoniously upended by COVID-19. Then things get much more interesting.
Take heart by observing this Team Penske photo that shows three-time winner Helio Castroneves about to reef his Dallara IR18-Chevrolet into Turn One during last year’s 500. The glorious scene will be repeated this summer, only with some major twists. The schedule change has pushed IndyCar’s GMR Grand Prix, run on the IMS road course, to July 4th, the same day as the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Pennzoil 150, which is also being run on the road course for the first time. This will create the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader that a lot of motorsports observers, including yours truly, have encouraged as a strategy to help the gate of both series’ events, which could clearly use a boost. Not only that, but the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard – the erstwhile Brickyard 400 – runs the very next day, July 5th. It’s difficult to imaging that the lead-in crowd for the July 4th twinbill won’t help both the box office and TV ratings for the Brickyard, whose audience numbers have flagged significantly in recent years. From there, IMS segues into preparations for the Indianapolis 500 by Gainbridge, the first to be presented by Roger Penske, who now owns both the track and the series. If the virus is finally mitigated by then and everything comes off as planned, this could prove to be a huge, historic happening. Want a piece of it? Head for the IMS website to start your planning and ticket purchases. I might be in the house myself for this one.