Indianapolis 500 welcomes 135,000 fans - the largest crowd at a sporting event since start of pandemic

Venue capacity capped at 40 per cent at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was buzzing again on Sunday both with the roar of engines and the largest crowd at a sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

The Indianapolis 500 welcomed a sold-out 135,000 spectators on Sunday — nine months after the race ran without fans for the first time in its 105-year history.

“We’re just excited to be opening up America,” said Roger Penske, who bought Indianapolis in January 2020, roughly two months before the pandemic shut down the country.

The speedway has 240,000 permanent grandstand seats and space in the infield and suites to accommodate nearly 400,000 on race day. But Penske couldn’t open the gates until October, when only 10,000 a day were permitted into the landmark facility over a three-day weekend for an IndyCar race.

Americans are eager to return to some sort of normalcy. They want their traditions and their sports back, none more so than “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which withstood world wars, the Great Depression and the now the pandemic.

Through vaccinations, more than 90,000 done at the speedway, Penske got the clearance to at last permit 40 per cent attendance.

“The good news is, it’s started to roll here and I think with opening America we can be the premiere event,” he said. “It’s an honour for us to even be in a position to execute something like that. We’re going to continue to fine tune it. I would do the same transaction again. I just see the benefits on a longer term basis. I really want to run as big as my anticipation and not my exception.”

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon starts from pole on Sunday for the fourth time at the Indy 500. Dixon is considered the best driver of his generation and trails Mario Andretti by only one victory for second on IndyCar’s all-time wins list. He has just one Indy 500 victory, in 2008, and three runner-up finishes.

“It’s the biggest race in the world and the most difficult race in the world. I feel very lucky and privileged to have won it once but that also drives you into a deeper will to want to win it again,” Dixon said. “Would I trade some championships for 500 wins? Maybe. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on IndyCar championships but the Indy 500 is the Indy 500.”