Photo: Chris R. Owens/ASP, Inc.

Rahal: ‘We Have to Run This Race’ Following No Crowds Allowed for Indy 500

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The unfortunate reality of having the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge without fans is set into stone.

Especially, when it involves businesses that could suffer of not having any revenue due to folks not coming. Let alone, not even having the event at all has implications for teams and sponsors.

Those touchy topics became the focal point of Graham Rahal’s comments about whether or not the decision was correct following the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing Tuesday the race running behind closed doors.

As soon as that devastating news broke out, Rahal was among the many drivers lending a voice on the ordeal.

Two days later, Rahal understood the pressure of having crowds during a time period where the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rise in the United States.

Although he understands that Roger Penske wanted fans and didn’t want to get into the whole gist of explaining why such pressure is a concern, the 31-year-old veteran knew the race had to go on as planned which is Sunday, August 23.

“We have to run this race. I mean, no matter how you look at it, I want fans there as much as anybody. We thrive off of that, we thrive off of that atmosphere,” said Rahal during Thursday’s video conference. “But I can tell you right now there’s a lot of teams, trust me, I get the heat for it on social media when I say teams probably wouldn’t live without this race. I get all the fans saying, I don’t care about the teams. Fine, that’s great for you. But for us, we do.

“We care about the jobs that it provides, the cottage industries is provides in Indianapolis, everything else it does for our city, the economic impact. We have to have this race. At some point the call needed to be made.”

Disgruntled race fans, some who’ve been attending the 500-mile race for multiple decades, have gone out of their way saying the 104th annual event should either be postponed to October or cancelled altogether.

Such comments is where Rahal, who’ll be entering his 13th Indy 500, disagrees because it simply wouldn’t work from a business and weather standpoint due to the amount of money and efforts they’ve put on promoting the event in August.

“My personal opinion of that is you can’t. What if this doesn’t go away? In my opinion, it’s not going to. I just don’t see this disappearing any time soon. You get till October, you delay further, then it’s snowing, the race doesn’t happen,” said Rahal.

“The race doesn’t happen, I can guarantee you United Rentals is not happy. I can guarantee you PeopleReady for Takuma (Sato), people aren’t going to be happy. We have to have this event, it’s really critical for our sport.”

As an avid hockey fan, Rahal has spoken with his pals from the NHL about how it feels like competing in a sport without fans. The response was once they’re in the mindset of doing the job at hand, they’re locked in on beating their competitors instead of its surroundings like crowds.

“When I’m racing wheel-to-wheel with Sebastien (Bourdais) or anybody else last year, I’m not looking at the grandstands, right,” said Rahal. “I’ve been talking to them. I asked them the same, What is it like to play without fans?

“To be honest, once we start playing, I didn’t even think about it. The same for us. That’s even in a much closer environment than even Indy.”

Focus aside, Rahal still made it clear that he and all of the NTT IndyCar Series competitors thrive on having fans. Even if he were to win for the first time, that feeling of not having fans will feel weird, but a win will be significant to his racing career as he’s certainly ready for the challenge that lies ahead.

“Our team has been extremely dedicated to our performance at Indy, trying to enhance that,” Rahal on the preparations for Indy. “I thought last year we actually had a really good shot at it in the race. But this year we’re focused heavily on making sure that we improve even further and run up front.

“I thought Texas was a good sign, obviously other than the issues starting before the race. Our competitiveness there was very good. I feel like all year round so far we’ve been able to bounce back, even at times like Iowa where we weren’t great, we could bounce back and have a great race result.

“I’m excited. Obviously try to get this United Rentals car in Victory Lane. We have a special paint scheme for the 500, which will be cool. We’re certainly ready to go.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.