Indianapolis 500 welcomes 135,000 fans in global benchmark

May 30, 2021, 3:38 PM
Indy 500...
Fans fill the stands as Colton Herta leads the field in the early laps of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 30, 2021. About 135,000 spectators, about 40% of the speedway’s capacity, were admitted to the track for the largest sports event since the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

INDIANANPOLIS (AP) — As the minutes ticked closer to the green flag, Roger Penske took in the pageantry from a perch overlooking the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he owns. Then he glanced at his watch.

The time?

Time to throw open the doors and usher in thousands of Indianapolis 500 fans wearing checkered flag masks and shorts and let them cut loose.

“I’m ready to go. We’ve been waiting a year and a half for this,” Penske said.

RELATED: Bigger crowds expected at Utah’s National Parks this summer

The largest crowd in the world for a sports event showed up in joyous force on Sunday, 135,000 of them packing the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was only 40% of capacity — that was the figure deemed safe in the pandemic — but it felt like a full house nonetheless.

The fans were treated to a victory by one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar history as Helio Castroneves grabbed the lead late and pulled away for his fourth win in the showcase race. They cheered wildly as he clambered up the fence to celebrate.

The win helped make it feel like things were back to normal on a cool, cloudless day.

The pork tenderloin line? Long. The merchandise shop lines? Long enough to stretch outside the store and mesh with the concession lines. Pit road. Packed. Parking lots. Full. COVID-19 concerns. About none.

The public address announcer asked fans to salute the field of 33 cars as they zipped around the illustrious track on the warm-up lap.

Thousands and thousands of fans doffed their caps and roared in approval of the drivers. Banned from the track last August, as a delayed Indy 500 became an empty Indy 500, Sunday’s race seemed to serve as a symbolic milestone that sports in the United States is truly back and open for business.

Indy fans and dignitaries mixed with NFL players, pro wrestlers and social media celebrities at the Brickyard. Josh Richards, who boasts 25 million Tik Tok followers, reached 100,000 views within 30 minutes of posting a video from the grid. Indy is in a whole new era — long gone are the days Mrs. Brady and Gomer Pyle taking center stage — and that includes for fans who for the first time gawked at lineup intros and other hype videos around the track on 30 LED display boards added since 2019.

The celebrities are getting an overhaul and so are the sponsors. Former NFL tackle Russell Okung is an investor in driver Rinus VeeKay’s Bitcoin-sponsored car and told team owner Ed Carpenter the cryptocurrency would invest in the race team “forever.” There was a QR code on the car that went straight to website conversion between U.S. dollars and Bitcoin.

“We’re making history right now,” Okung said.

If he wanted a true sense of 500 history, he could have walked further down pit road where team owner Beth Paretta watched as the finishing touches were put on her predominantly female team with driver Simona de Silvestro. Paretta, backed by Penske as part of his push for diversity, said four female team members would be part of the over-the-wall crew.

“The greatest achievement is if every team has women integrated into their teams because women can do most of these jobs,” Paretta said. “They can certainly do them very well. We’d like to do some races later this year and hopefully more next year.”

Danica Patrick was once assumed to usher in a generation of female drivers at Indy after her inspring third-place finish in 2009. Working for NBC, the retired Patrick still drew a packed crowd in front of the pagoda, the Speedway’s most visible landmark. She also drove the pace car.

“This Is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia first trip to Indy came with a fast thrill — Mario Andretti drove him around the famed track in a two-seater ride a day before he waved the green flag to start the race.

How fast did Milo and Mario go?

“Fast,” Ventimiglia said, laughing.

Tyler Gargas, 21, of Crown Point, Indiana, was attending his first Indy 500 in 10 years and shared a tailgate spot with his mom in spot 18 of the parking lot.

Spot 18? That’s Penske’s personal spot,s named in honor of his career Indy 500 victories as a longtime team owner. Lynn Gargas wore a Graham Rahal T-shirt and held her Miller Lite in an Indy 500 koozie — with two coolers at her feet.

What if the Captain asked them to move?

“Well, he owns the place,” Gargas said.

About a couple of hours later, the spot was filled with an official car.

Through vaccinations — including more than 90,000 done at the speedway itself — Penske and speedway officials got the clearance for IMS to all these fans. Justin Brammer of Noblesville, Indiana, said he had no hesitation about attending his first Indy 500 and said the event proved sports could be pulled off safely.

“Hopefully, this gives other people confidence around the country that if we could pull it off, it gets everybody back to somewhat normal,” he said.”

Oh, and Indy is just getting started.

“Let’s just be sure we get the race off and next year let’s blow the roof off the place,” Penske said.


Today’s Top Stories

All News

At least 127 people are dead and hundreds more injured, police say, after chaos and violence erup...
Heather Chen, Raja Razek and Kareem El Damanhoury, CNN

Indonesia stadium riot: At least 127 people reported dead following soccer match, police say

At least 127 people are dead and hundreds more injured, police say, after chaos and violence erupted late on Saturday following an Indonesian league soccer match between two of the nation's biggest teams.
21 hours ago
The National Archives has told the House Oversight Committee that certain presidential records from...
Whitney Wild and Katelyn Polantz, CNN

National Archives says it still doesn’t have all Trump White House records

The National Archives has told the House Oversight Committee that certain presidential records from the Trump administration remain outstanding, citing information that some White House staff used non-official electronic systems to conduct official business.
21 hours ago
Sister Tracy Y. Browning, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks during the Sat...
Waverly Golden

Saturday morning conference session makes history

During the Saturday morning session of the 192nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sister Tracy Y. Browning became the first Black woman to ever speak at a general conference.
21 hours ago
u of u student arrested...
Waverly Golden

Other paths to consider when thinking about attending college

Following the student loan forgiveness announcement, college is on everyone's mind. Dave Noriega takes an in-depth look at the alternatives.
21 hours ago
Around 1:02 p.m. this afternoon, a pickup truck with two occupants ended up in a ditch filled with ...
Waverly Golden

Pickup truck crash leaves two dead

The Utah Department of Public Safety says the occupants, a male driver and passenger sustained fatal injuries. 
21 hours ago
Firefighter Fred Woods assesses damages at Tragedy Springs (Jonathan Pierce Calfire)...
Dan Bammes

The sad history of Tragedy Spring

The Mormon Battalion historic site, high in the Sierras is in sad shape after windstorms and wildfires.
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Indianapolis 500 welcomes 135,000 fans in global benchmark