4-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt joins insider Nathan Brown on a special edition of Pit Pass Live. Indianapolis Star
Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s amendment Thursday that allows outdoor professional sports venues to admit fans at 25% capacity starting May 31, IndyCar’s season-opener June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway will still be a made-for-TV event without fans present, according to TMS president Eddie Gossage.
IndyCar and TMS reaffirmed plans earlier this month for the series to open on the oval track in a one-day event that would include an open practice session and qualifications. The series announced Sunday the race would be shown on NBC at 8 p.m. as the first series race on network television in prime time since 2013.
Having the opportunity to possibly hold the first major American sporting event with fans since the coronavirus pandemic halted sports around the world would have been seen as a major victory for the track and sport, but Gossage said Thursday in an interview with KRLD radio in Dallas that the time crunch of just over a week before race day was just too high a mountain to climb.
“Really, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions that you’ve got to look into to know how something like this would affect us,” Gossage said on the show. “And there’s no sufficient time to resolve anything.”
Gossage fielded questions about whether camping would be permitted on-site leading into race day (it's popular among TMS fans) and if luxury suites would be used, even at 25% capacity.
“We know it would be 25% of the grandstands, but it’s not that simple, so with the race being right around the corner days away, it’s certainly too close to pull that off, to be perfectly honest.”
And, he added, it has nothing to do with what the stands at TMS, which hold close to 135,000 fans, would look like with less than 35,000 scattered around the 1.5-mile oval.
“I’m a race fan myself, and there’s nothing I’d like more than to have race fans there, whether it’s 100,000 or 10,000 – it’s better than none,” he said. “You’re right, it doesn’t look as good on TV when there’s all those empty seats with folks sprinkled around here and there. But the bottom line is we want to get back to where the whole place is open, and we can fill the place up with fans, and they’re there to have a good time. That’s what a race is all about.”
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When TMS and IndyCar announced the details for the series season opener, Gossage told IndyStar that he had waited as long as he could to have fans at the race in some capacity. But because of the size and scope of the plans that would have to be in place – both from an organizing and monetary standpoint – he couldn't delay an announcement any longer.
He and IndyCar officials Mark Miles and Roger Penske reached an agreement on a reduced sanctioning fee, he said, to help lessen the blow on the TMS books for an event the relies heavily on fans for revenue.
“Everyone was telling me, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘We’ve got to be patient, got to be patient,” Gossage said earlier this month. “We just ran out of time, and we either had to do it without a crowd or not do it.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at @By_NathanBrown.