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Sadly, Indy 500 has deafening sounds of silence

Commentary

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s almost race weekend and the tiny enclave of Speedway looks virtually barren.

The usually colorful campgrounds and parking lots are empty, green grass untouched and white gravel undisturbed. There is no sign of the familiar sweet smells of food staples like turkey legs and deep fried Oreos. The traditional signs welcoming race fans to town are missing, as are the lawn chairs along the berm of Crawfordsville Road in the shadow of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, weather permitting. For the surrounding community of Speedway, which bills itself as the racing capital of the world, many residents will be watching from home and they are filled with sadness.

“It’s been one of the most constant things in my life and I look forward to it every year, just the race itself,” said Tom Beaudry, a longtime racing vendor who can hear the roar of the engines from his backyard. “I haven’t missed one since I was 5.”

Inside the historic speedway are grandstands with 232,00 seats now covered in red stickers reading “Do not use.” With suites and infield crowds, the race is generally considered the largest single-day sporting event in the world each year with more than 300,000 in attendance.

This weekend, it will be zero.

New speedway owner Roger Penske couldn’t wait to show the fans what he’d done to the place after buying it and pouring millions of dollars into renovations this spring. Now the grand reopening has been rescheduled until at least October or more likely May, when the Indy 500 is usually run.

IndyCar drivers and team owners don’t like the deafening sound of silence, either.

A.J. Foyt, one of three four-time race winners, called the fanless qualifying weekend lonely.

Penske moved the race from its traditional Memorial Day weekend slot to late August, fully believing some fans would be able to attend. On Aug. 4, he backtracked and ever since, IMS President Doug Boles has been inundated with hundreds of requests for exceptions.

He’s heard from ticket-holders hoping to attend their 75th consecutive race, people such as Beaudry who haven’t missed a race since they were toddlers, even those with terminal illnesses who worry they may not see another race.

“I know my streak won’t be broken because I’ll be there,” Beaudry said. “I might not be inside, but I’ll know I was there.”

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