By: Tanner Watkins
March 13, 2020 | 3:00 PM
In two days, it feels like the sporting community (and the world at large) has been thrown into a washing machine and then tumble-dried on high while our everyday lives are flipped upside down by the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
The latest – and final – domino to fall in the American sporting landscape this week was Friday’s cancellation of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – plus the next three NTT IndyCar Series rounds in Birmingham, Alabama, Long Beach, California, and Austin, Texas.
In the wake of the announcement made by INDYCAR earlier today, President and CEO of Penske Entertainment, Mark Miles, met with the media via conference call to dissect what exactly has happened this week – and what the outlook is moving forward for IndyCar.
I have done my best to separate the most impactful comments from that teleconference to provide facts to the community, listed below. All quotes have been sourced from INDYCAR Media.
INDYCAR, IMS is “absolutely ready” for May at Indianapolis
In an opening statement to the media call, Miles reiterated that while all on-track activity (including open testing at Richmond and Indianapolis) has been canceled between now and April 30, the events previously scheduled for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May are still a “go.”
“I would just say we are absolutely focused on May,” Miles stated from St. Peterburg. “I’m with Doug Boles. 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.”
Now certainly, this situation is as fluid as the definition of fluid could possibly allow. With that being said, INDYCAR’s cancellation of events through April allows them to put their best foot forward now while protecting their most important asset in May.
Later, Miles was asked if hypotheticals or contingency plans for May have been established.
“You have to know we’ll do everything possible to have the Indianapolis 500 mile race and the Grand Prix before it in May,” Miles reassured. “If somehow that ends up not being feasible, we’ll be looking at all the other possibilities.”
While other events may be rescheduled, Long Beach is canceled
The overarching statement in Miles’ message today was that the series hopes to start racing in May, and then race as much as they can until the North American climate doesn’t allow them to.
The potential is certainly there to reschedule events at permanent racing facilities, but in places like Long Beach, the option simply isn’t there for 2020.
“As I said, we want to have as full a season as we can. We want to race in all of our cities,” said Miles. “I will say that Long Beach has said they’re canceled. Don’t see any opportunity to reschedule later in the year.”
At the outset of the call, Miles had another nugget about Long Beach: “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. (Long Beach officials) were finding it increasingly unlikely that they were going to be able to stage races.”
RACER.com has since published an article where Long Beach officials maintain that they are trying to find a fall date where IndyCar and IMSA could return in 2020. If there is further information to add about Long Beach, then we will post it here. Until then, it should be considered canceled.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was canceled as part of a greater nationwide response
As the hours of Thursday evening drew closer to Friday morning, INDYCAR found it increasingly-apparent that a race simply could not be held this weekend with the public’s best interest of safety in mind.
“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,” said Miles.
Since the sanctioning body’s announcement barring fans from attending the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, regional closures of the PGA Tour’s PLAYERS Championship as well as the Disney theme park contributed to INDYCAR’s ultimate idea that there was not a scenario where an event could comfortably be held.
“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,” Miles added.
“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.”
The individual in the conference call who queried Miles on the St. Petersburg cancellation inferred that approximately 250 individuals would comprise the INDYCAR paddock for this race weekend.
Miles noted that while he wouldn’t give an exact number, an estimate of 250 people on the ground making this race happen was “way low,” meaning there were well over 250 individuals who would have continued on with a race being held weekend. That includes INDYCAR, Road to Indy, and support series personnel.
Team owners had a conference call with INDYCAR management
In the wake of Friday’s four-race cancellation announcement, both Miles and Roger Penske joined INDYCAR team owners in a conference call to air opinions and answer questions in this uncertain time.
As a whole, the sanctioning body cares about teams large and small – and Miles feels that the sport is equipped to deal with this adversity and move forward without devastating results.
“I think we’re concerned about our whole ecosystem,” Miles noted. “We had a call with all of our team owners. Everybody is taking stock in the situation. Everybody will sort and grind through it. I didn’t hear anybody thinking they weren’t going to be in business.”
“We will be in very regular touch with them. I think if there’s anything about INDYCAR teams, it’s they’ve shown their resilience. They know how to manage. They care about their people. Right now I think even more than thinking about their businesses, they’re thinking about their employees, keeping them safe, keeping them employed.”
It is incredibly important in times such as this to provide timely, yet accurate updates. Open-Wheels strives to accomplish just that, and we hope this resource was an effective one-stop-shop to learning about INDYCAR’s decision-making this week and the reasoning behind those decisions.
Header image by Tim Holle/INDYCAR.