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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

In the end, Penske made the right call

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Highly successful businessmen rarely make poor decisions especially when it involves their brand. Throughout his storied career, Roger Penske has strived for perfection both as an entrepreneur and the owner of the most successful organization in the history of motor sports. While his resume is filled with tremendous accomplishments, it’s the attention to detail along with his quest to be the greatest that sets him apart from his competitors.  

When he purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past November, he obviously had no inkling in regards to the pandemic that would soon ravage the United States in 2020, but when it quickly placed a stranglehold on the nation he immediately began the process of navigating through uncharted waters by rescheduling the Indianapolis 500 from its traditional date in May until Aug. 23, allowing for a period of time in which he hoped the infection rates would diminish, allowing for a safe gathering of some 275,000 fans as he showcased the greatest race in the world for the first time. 

However, after a quarantine in which Americans refused to fully practice the recommendations of advanced medical science, millions of people returned to their normal way of life in an irresponsible rush to reopen the country, bolstering the virus and spiking the numbers of infected individuals throughout the country, including the Midwest. 

Penske remained hopeful, and implemented a plan to reduce paid attendance to 25% of capacity, counting on the cavernous space at IMS to allow for safe spacing and plenty of social distancing. But as the COVID-19 statistics became even more overwhelmingly dangerous, IMS business partner Indiana University Health publicly stated the Indy 500 should not be run with fans in attendance, and the decision to pull the plug on an expected crowd of some 75,000 race fans became an easy one. 

No one could’ve possibly anguished this decision more than Penske, as the Indy 500 itself became the focal point of his career many years ago. The historic dominance of his team at the famed oval is well documented, and when the opportunity to showcase the enhancements he’s made to the circuit in his first year of ownership evaporated, it’s safe to say he made the most difficult decision in his professional life. No one loves the hallowed grounds at 16th Street and Georgetown Road more than Penske himself, and it shows by virtue of him calling off all the best laid plans for people to congregate on race day, which ultimately would clearly compromise their safety. 

As troubling as it was for him, in the end he made the right decision in terms of public safety as it relates to environmental health, and one that we must respect. The Indianapolis 500 will persevere and hopefully will be run in 2021 as normal. There will be a tremendous television audience and hopefully a highly competitive event will prevail. Sure, you can’t pack your cooler full of beverages and make your annual trek to the track, but you can take solace in the fact that your health and welfare have been taken into consideration and common sense prevailed in your favor. For those who felt the risk was minimal, well, the call wasn’t yours to begin with, and I for one salute Roger Penske for what was the toughest decision he’ll ever have to make as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Notes: While the business relationship between Indiana University Health and IMS is longstanding and goes far beyond the Infield Medical Care Center, they undoubtedly played a role in Penske’s decision. By placing their relationship with IMS on the back burner and publicly proclaiming the health risks associated with a large number of race fans converging at the track, IU Health maintained its professional integrity as a prominent health care provider. 

The announcement to prohibit fans on race day also includes any public attendance for practice and qualifications and Carb Day.  

IMS will credit those customers who purchased tickets for the 2020 Indy 500 with similar provisions for the 2021 event. You can read all the specific details on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website. 

NBC Sports will offer two different ways of following all the on-track action starting next week with practice. You can view all that activity on their Gold Package streaming service for a nominal fee.  

As a race fan, I can personally tell you it’s a bargain, so check it out soon. They will also offer a number of televised hours of coverage including the race itself, which will be aired live locally on WTHR.

Danny Bridges, who will miss the sights and sounds associated with the massive race day crowd, but supports Mr. Penske’s decision one hundred percent, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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