Indianapolis 500 welcomes 135,000 fans in global benchmark


The Indianapolis 500 welcomed 135,000 fans Sunday – making it the largest crowd in the world for a sports event amid the Covid pandemic. 

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was only at 40% of capacity – the figure deemed safe – but nonetheless many of the stands looked full in scenes that have rarely been seen for more than a year. 

Banned from the track last August, as a delayed Indy 500 became an empty Indy 500, the race seemed to serve as a symbolic milestone that sports in the United States is truly back and open for business. 

Brazilian Helio Castroneves captured a record-tying fourth win at the iconic race.

Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, his former mentor at Team Penske, as the only four-time winners of the event, dubbed ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ Mears was the last driver to join the club in 1991.

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 on Sunday 

Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, leads the field into the first turn at the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, leads the field into the first turn at the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

About 135,000 spectators are admitted to the track, for the largest sports event since the start of the pandemic. It's about 40% of attendance and leaves 100,000 empty seats in the permanent grandstands

About 135,000 spectators are admitted to the track, for the largest sports event since the start of the pandemic. It’s about 40% of attendance and leaves 100,000 empty seats in the permanent grandstands

Banned from the track last August, as a delayed Indy 500 became an empty Indy 500, the race seemed to serve as a symbolic milestone that sports in the United States is truly back and open for business

Banned from the track last August, as a delayed Indy 500 became an empty Indy 500, the race seemed to serve as a symbolic milestone that sports in the United States is truly back and open for business 

Helio Castroneves, of Brazil, is congratulated by Takuma Sato, of Japan, after Castroneves, won the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Indianapolis

Helio Castroneves, of Brazil, is congratulated by Takuma Sato, of Japan, after Castroneves, won the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Indianapolis

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.  

In the stands 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.

In the stands fans and dignitaries mixed with NFL players, pro wrestlers and social media celebrities at the Brickyard

In the stands fans and dignitaries mixed with NFL players, pro wrestlers and social media celebrities at the Brickyard

Ed Carpenter talks with fans through the fence before the Indianapolis 500 auto race, the best attended sporting event so far this year

Ed Carpenter talks with fans through the fence before the Indianapolis 500 auto race, the best attended sporting event so far this year 

Ryan Hunter-Reay pits during the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis Sunday

Ryan Hunter-Reay pits during the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis Sunday 

Brazilian Helio Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, his former mentor at Team Penske, as the only four-time winners of the event, dubbed ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ Mears was the last driver to join the club in 1991

Santino Ferrucci of the United States, driver of the #45 Hy-Vee Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to the race

Santino Ferrucci of the United States, driver of the #45 Hy-Vee Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to the race 

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.

Fans fill the stands before the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Sunday

Fans fill the stands before the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Sunday 

Graham Rahal hits the wall in Turn 2 after losing a tire during Sunday's race, one of the top events of the summer season

Graham Rahal hits the wall in Turn 2 after losing a tire during Sunday’s race, one of the top events of the summer season 

Fans take a photo before the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Sunday

Fans take a photo before the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Sunday 

E.J. Falk, of Detroit, wears a face covering at the Indianapolis 500 auto race as he packed the stands alongside thousands of fans

E.J. Falk, of Detroit, wears a face covering at the Indianapolis 500 auto race as he packed the stands alongside thousands of fans 

A fan holds his face mask as he sings "Back Home Again In Indiana" before the Indianapolis 500 auto race

A fan holds his face mask as he sings ‘Back Home Again In Indiana’ before the Indianapolis 500 auto race

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.

A fan waves during ceremonies before the race, a highlight of the sporting calendar that is known for its pageantry

A fan waves during ceremonies before the race, a highlight of the sporting calendar that is known for its pageantry 

Fans picnic behind the stands before the start the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday

Fans picnic behind the stands before the start the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday 

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