By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
With the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge being four days away, all the talk have focused on NTT IndyCar Series drivers regarding their feelings about going through the COVID-19 pandemic, especially races like the 500 going on without fans.
On Wednesday, it was finally the executives turn to shed light on their very tumultuous year as Mark Miles, Doug Boles and Jay Frye reflected on their road to the 104th Indy 500, but also the current championship campaign which has completed its first six of what they’ll hope to be a 14-round season.
Miles (CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp.) believes the series has been in good shape, crediting both INDYCAR and the Penske Entertainment Corp. for being flexible with all parties (ex. race teams and NBC). It has been the ideal way to assure everyone stays safe and healthy, but also resilient with any sudden changes related to the pandemic, especially the addition of doubleheaders like the upcoming Harvest Grand Prix (October 2-3) and Mid-Ohio, which is currently postponed.
Miles remains optimistic they’ll be able to get a 14-round trail with plans of announcing the fate of Mid-Ohio (originally scheduled for August 7-8) at the end of month with a goal of having it mid-September.
“I think we’ve done really well. Look, after the 500, after this Sunday, we will have had seven INDYCAR races. We have seven yet that are scheduled,” said Miles.
“The doubleheaders have been a key. Very difficult to stand up a new race in a new place on an unscheduled weekend, much more feasible to add a second race on a weekend at a place where we’d already planned to race. That’s helped the promoters who have had the benefit of having a second race added to their program. It’s pretty efficient for all of us, INDYCAR, NBC, and of course the teams. So that’s been really important.”
Just think of the hell they’ve gone through, imagine what Roger Penske has dealt with in his first year owning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Boles (President of IMS) explained in excellent detail some of the the positives and at times disappointments “The Captain” has been through.
Even in this rough time period where the 500 being run behind closed doors, Boles assured to the press that not one time finances was ever number-one in conversations. Instead, it was about making the fan experience better because there’s not one person more upset about the situation of running behind closed doors but Penske.
“Even with all of these struggles, even with the heartbreak of not being able to have fans on Sunday, I don’t think the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has ever been in a better spot in terms of its future. Great leadership at INDYCAR. Obviously Mark’s tenure here has helped lead us through a lot of this. I feel very confident there,” said Boles.
“The one thing, maybe the best way to talk to the financial thing is a Roger anecdote. First thing he did when he came here was, How do we make the fan experience better? He never asked us or told us, Here is how much money I want to invest. It was, What can we do to make the fan experience better?
“All of our conversations walk through the challenges, especially this summer going from a full house to 50% to 25%, then ultimately to no fans, there wasn’t a conversation about, What does this do financially for us? It’s always been, How do we do this race in a responsible way that’s fair for our community and good for our fans?
“While, yes, there’s a massive financial implication to this, it’s not something that really weighed into the decision factors. It has not slowed Roger Penske down in terms of his focus on making the Indianapolis 500 even better than it already is.
“It’s amazing you can go through a period like this and be as encouraged as I think most of us here with the future for the Speedway. You’re right, there’s a financial impact. The biggest part is there’s an emotional leader who loves this place, knows the future is bright. Each one of us that has an opportunity to work with him every day are 100% onboard. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a better spot.”
As for the future of INDYCAR, the optimism remains with strong belief the pandemic has strengthened the paddock.
Frye (President of INDYCAR) said when the season officially began at Texas in June, the sanctioning body issued a 50-page COVID plan document to everyone and thus far, there hasn’t been any issues, including this month at Indianapolis which he couldn’t be more prouder.
“The first six races that we plugged and played this plan, specifically all the venues we went through. I want to thank our paddock because they’ve bought into what we’re doing, how we’re doing it,” said Frye.
“The goal was to make sure we got to the Indianapolis 500 and we delivered a healthy paddock for this coming weekend. I think we’ve really done that. Again, that’s a kudos to all our teams and drivers, promoter partners, everybody that has followed the guidelines, bought into the process of how we’re doing things.
“I think we have it down pretty good, understand how it works. We’ll do the same kind of procedures next week at Gateway. It can be done for however long it needs to be done.”
Live coverage of the Indy 500 begins Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBC with Marco Andretti leading the 33-car field to the green flag.