Penske makes tough decision – no fans at Indy 500; right or wrong, at least he wasn’t greedy

On the day it was announced Roger Penske would buy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he could not have imagined the series of events that led to today’s announcement.

Unintended consequences can be a serious pain in the ass, and the unintended consequence of banning fans from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 might be very unpleasant.

It’s understandable that new IMS owner Roger Penske and his lieutenants made the call to keep 75,000 people from congregating for a socially distant and masked race day party.  No one wants to be held accountable for an outbreak among mask rebels that could increase hospitalizations and fatalities due to this miserable and ongoing outbreak.

When William Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” he meant men who make life and death decisions like this one.  “To open the gates or not to open the gates” is a mutation of another Shakespeare quote that speaks to choices without a clear correct path.  This choice on its face appears to be clear and easy, but it is anything but.

That is because like water finds its level, Indy 500 fans are going to find Indy 500 parties.  Instead of one party for 75,000, there will be over 1,000 parties with 75 people – or 3,000 parties with 25 people.  The number of parties and average number of attendees is not germane. This isn’t a math problem, nor is it an indictment of the decision makers at the IMS.   Just know there will be parties – lots of parties with more than a few people and no one but the host to monitor protocols.

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Which of the two choices allows for the better chance to limit COVID-19 spread is the question.  I’m sure Penske, Mark Miles, Doug Boles, and Allison Melangton sought the very best answers they could to that question.  They did not consult me because, again, I am not an epidemiologist.

The result will be a new and different kind of race day fun surrounding the Greatest Spectacle in  Racing.  Instead of one giant festival for well over a quarter of a million people, we will have too many to count remote celebrations of racing, speed, bravery, cheap beer, and Indianapolis’s identity as the Racing Capitol of the World.

It’s not the way anyone wanted it – least of all Penske, who chose the option that pays him zero dollars toward covering the expense of running the race.  I don’t know how big the check from NBC is for the broadcast rights to the race, but I’m certain it pales in comparison to those cut to the NFL, NCAA, Big 10, SEC, NASCAR, NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball that have them jumping through all kinds of hoops to keep themselves solvent.

It would have been easy to take the cash for tickets, claim people were safer at the IMS where they can be monitored, and claim a small but hollow victory over COVID-19.

Penske didn’t do that.  I don’t know whether he made the right call to keep the virus from spreading or killing because I am not an epidemiologist, but I do know he didn’t make the greedy choice.  And that’s something you don’t see billionaires do very often.

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