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Indianapolis Motor Speedway could welcome back fans for Brickyard weekend

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s five-stage plan to reopen the state has the final phase tentatively scheduled to include a return to sports venues July 4.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the first major sporting venue to have fans back in the stands this summer.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a five-stage plan Friday to reopen the state, with the final phase tentatively scheduled to include a return to sports venues July 4, the day an IndyCar-NASCAR Xfinity series doubleheader is scheduled to be run at the track.

Holcomb said social distancing guidelines will remain in place through at least race weekend.

Mark Miles, who oversees the IndyCar series as president of Penske Entertainment Corp., said other precautions also may be taken though it’s too early to provide details.

The plans still could change if there’s a resurgence of the coronavirus over the next two months.

It’s been a busy few months since Roger Penske purchased the track and the IndyCar series, a deal that closed in January. When the sports world started shutting down March 12, following the lead of the NBA, Penske and his team went to work on contingency plans.

They moved the track’s marquee event, the Indianapolis 500, from its traditional Memorial Day weekend slot to Aug. 23. They also announced that IndyCar’s other May race, the GMR Grand Prix, would be rescheduled for July 4 as part of a Saturday doubleheader with the Xfinity’s Pennzoil 150. Both are to be held on the track’s road course.

NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 is still set for its original date, July 5, on the historic 2.5-mile oval.

All along, race organizers hoped they’d be racing in front of fans by July 4.

“There’s a real chance of that. Nobody, I think, has an exact ability to forecast what happens,” Miles said when asked about possibly being the first sporting event in front of fans. “It’s a real possibility we could be the first, the first NASCAR race with spectators. With IndyCar, we’re hopeful we may have spectators before that.”

Miles still believes IndyCar can hold its delayed season opener June 6 at Texas. The series’ season originally was scheduled to begin with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13-15. It was canceled March 13.

NASCAR said this week it will resume its season May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, the first of seven events in May for the series, all without fans.

It is unclear what social distancing might look like at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a facility that draws upward of 275,000 people for the Indy 500, the world’s largest single-day sporting event.

In recent years, Brickyard weekend attendance has waned. Last year’s estimated crowd of 60,000 was an improvement over 2018, and with approximately 235,000 permanent seats at the speedway, there could be plenty of space for public health officials to assure fans that race will be safe to attend.

“Obviously, I’m a promoter at heart, and when you promote things, they work better when you have fans,” speedway president Doug Boles said, noting NASCAR officials also would be included in preparations. “Mark has really instructed us to think about what the race season looks like and what NASCAR weekend looks like, so we have started to look at that, and the good news is if you’re going to social distance, there’s no better place than the speedway.”

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