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Local broadcast blackout lifted for reduced-capacity Indy 500

Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts a Nascar race on July 5 (by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This year’s Indianapolis 500 will be opened up to Central Indiana television viewers for only the second time in seven decades as organizers seek to give the motorsports showpiece maximum exposure amid attendance restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced on Tuesday that attendance at next month’s Indy 500 will be limited to 25 per cent capacity, while all attendees will be required to wear face coverings.

Last month, IMS officials revealed plans to fill the grandstands to 50 per cent capacity for the rescheduled showpiece NTT IndyCar Series race on August 23. But that figure has since been readjusted due to the shifting nature of the ongoing pandemic.

IMS has released a detailed 88-page plan it has put in place to welcome fans to the 300,000-seat Speedway. Mark Miles, president and chief executive of IMS parent company Penske Entertainment, also announced that this year’s race will air live in Indianapolis on NBC, the domestic broadcast rights-holder of the IndyCar series.

The Speedway has blacked out live television coverage of the Indy 500 locally since 1950, concerned that it would eat into ticket sales for the event. The only prior exception was for its centenary edition in 2016, when all grandstand and general admission tickets sold out.

“Everything will be different about this year’s race, from the reduced crowd size, to a new distanced seating arrangement, to mandatory masks and a live broadcast throughout Central Indiana,” Miles said. “We will welcome fans to the ‘500’ based on a highly detailed, careful plan that was developed in collaboration with national, state and local health experts.

The plan was developed over the last four months by a team of IMS officials and national health experts, including Dr. Edward Racht, chief medical officer of Global Medical Response, the largest emergency medical services provider in the US. It has also been approved by the Marion County Department of Public Health, subject to continued review.

Highlights of the plan include reassigned seats to provide for greater distancing, while masks will be mandated throughout the entire venue, both indoors and outdoors. Attendees will be screened with a contactless thermometer, and individuals with a temperature in excess of 100.4 degrees will be prohibited from entering the Speedway.

All drinking fountains and misting stations will be removed and capacity limits on elevators will be enforced. Options from concession stands will be limited to mostly pre-packaged foods, while to reduce crowding, many activities will be eliminated, including all concerts, the VIP Red Carpet and the Indiana Press Foundation’s Last Row Party.

“We think it’s important to welcome race fans to the ‘500’ and to demonstrate that America, Indiana and Indianapolis do not need to shut down,” Miles said. “We can and will operate with every precaution we can think of as we welcome fans to the race. We will continue to work with our local and state health officials to ensure we’re doing whatever is necessary to protect our fans.”