INDIANAPOLIS — The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season was supposed to begin this weekend, in front of 100,000+ fans over the three-day period, under the bright sunny skies on the streets of St. Pete. Then, this crazy thing called the Coronavirus happened. The COVID-19 has wrecked havoc all over this great planet of ours.
On Wednesday, this whole thing came to a head. The NCAA Tournament, was going to be held without any fans. A few hours later, the conference tournaments followed suit. A few hours after that, an NBA player tested positive for the dangerous virus. Then, the unthinkable became an even bigger reality – the NBA postponed the rest of their season until further notice.
Thursday morning got worse. The Conference Tournaments would all be canceled. No more basketball to be played on any level. The MLB, NHL, MLS and other sporting leagues followed behind putting bans on their games for an indefinite period of time too.
Sports were coming to a halt, at least some of them. The racing world was largely unaffected — until it was. Over the last 24 hours, we went from racing without fans to no racing in general.
Formula One canceled their first three races. NASCAR has postponed their next two. IndyCar was the last ones up, but they recognized that and thought holding a race this weekend in St. Pete wasn’t a very good idea after all. So, they decided to follow everyone else’s guide and to just postpone the season until May.
“Obviously, this is an incredibly fluid situation,” Mark Miles, President and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp, said on Friday afternoon. “The entire world is dealing with it. It changes by the hour. It was clear to us from overnight and this morning that the right thing to do right now was to suspend our competition, really all on-track activity through April.”
When pressed on why make the call now instead of yesterday or why not at least let the race go on without fans, Miles said that the risk was just too much.
“There’s a public health risk any time people are getting together,” Miles continued. “That’s why since our announcement, our prior announcement that we were going to race without the crowd, we learned that Disney was shutting down, we saw THE PLAYERS Championship and Ponte Vedra go from their announcement they were going to play a major tournament for them without a crowd to canceling.
“Really there isn’t a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans. I just think that’s reflective of what’s going on in the country and in the world.
“In this country, as you know, very few universities are unaffected. Schools at other levels are closing and asking families to stay home. Businesses are banning travel and asking their employees in many cases to work from home. Really I think it’s just the reality that our society right now is discouraging getting people together.”
Miles said though while the season may have had the first four races affected, they’re pressing forward with starting at Indy during the Month of May.
“We are so excited about this season. We remain that. We’re going to race as much as we can race. “We want to have as full a season as we can. We want to race in all of our cities.
But the bottom line is we just don’t know enough now to know what’s possible when. What we can do is monitor the situation endlessly and to be in a great communicator with our promoters and all our officials and to focus on May. From our perspective, our hope, our ambition, our plan is to restart in May and to get in as much of a season as we can.
“I know that our promoters are going to assess their individual situations, as well. We’ll be every day, every hour talking to suppliers, to the paddock, to our sponsors, our broadcasters and our promoters. We’ll put on as big a show as we possibly can this year.
“I would just say we are absolutely focused on May. We’re all going to go home and keep doing what we do. We’re going to be absolutely ready. That’s with the normal schedule. We will obviously evaluate everything every day by the hour. We’ll make any changes we have to make. But our mindset and our efforts are completely dedicated to being ready to put on a great show throughout May.”
If and when we do get going, one of the four races that we were supposed to be running between now and May won’t be rescheduled. The annual Acura Long Beach Grand Prix which was initially set for mid April won’t be able to be moved to a later date. Miles confirmed that on Friday.
“Long Beach could not stage an event because of the California local governmental regulations. We’re in close regular multiple-times-a-day communication with all of our other races, particularly before May. They were finding it increasingly unlikely that they were going to be able to stage races.
“I will say that Long Beach has said they’re canceled. Don’t see any opportunity to reschedule later in the year.”
It’s not any one’s fault about that either. Street racing is tough to make up. So much goes into setting up a street course event that it takes time to put up walls, fencing, grandstands, etc, let along zoning, permits and all that goes into that. Then, once the weekend is over, it takes weeks to tear down.
You can’t just set up shop and tear it down in a matter of weeks. It takes time and is a disruption that Long Beach can’t do. I have a feeling St. Pete is going to be in the same boat.
Barber and COTA on the other hand are already existing venues and can very much if dates align come back on the schedule later in the year. Also, Miles said that that are open to a possibility of holding doubleheader weekend’s at some places if that means they can get the race count up by the end of the year.
“Yeah, I think that’s an idea that we’re aware of, something that we’ll take into account. There’s all the considerations, all the fluid dynamics, to use the wrong term I suppose, that have to go into account, taken into account, when we make the plan going forward. What can a broadcaster cover? What can the promoters do? What works for Honda and Chevy and our suppliers?
“We’ll do whatever is possible to do to create the fullest season.”
Miles said that they and their business partners are all in this together and that he couldn’t be more appreciative of the support of NBC and NTT and Firestone and Honda and Chevy have given. They’re all businesses. They are dealing with the situation themselves both as a business and as an employer and with their customers, including us. So there’s a lot of empathy and a lot of support.
There’s also support in the paddock too, a strong sense of cohesion Miles says.
“We’re doing what we have to do right now.”