By Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star/USA TODAY Network
Texas Motor Speedway has been given the green flag for IndyCar's 2020 season debut on June 6. The series on Thursday released a comprehensive set of guidelines set to be in place as open-wheel racing returns. It’s the first in a severely altered 15-race schedule for a series that, two months ago, was expecting to reach its halfway point as it arrived in Fort Worth, Texas.
That “shootout under the lights” will run without fans, as IndyCar mirrors NASCAR’s planned return to racing in several ways. (Stock cars get underway again May 17 at Darlington.) The IndyCar race is scheduled to begin at 8:45 p.m., will be shown on NBC Sports as previously scheduled and has been shortened from 248 laps on the 1.5-mile oval to 200 in what will be called the Genesys 300.“We’re really excited, everybody’s excited. Racers want to race,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told IndyStar. “We feel like the situation is right to make Texas the place we start. We’ve had lots of dialogue with (TMS president Eddie Gossage) and his team, and he’s been the liaison with the Texas governor and others that needed to be aware and comfortable with this.
“We’ve learned a lot, frankly, watching how NASCAR approached the reopening, and we’re accessing really good people to make sure we’re doing all the right things. But we think it’s the right time, and we’ve had time to get ready and do it with the best practices.”
To pull off a race weekend while keeping the safety of drivers, team members, series and track personnel and the medical team at the forefront, the entire program will take place June 6, with a two-hour practice session to begin at 1:30 p.m., followed by qualifications at 5 p.m.
Additionally, teams will be limited to 20 people per car admitted onto the grounds – including the driver, owner, spotters and pit crew members. Traditionally, most entries come with about 25 total personnel, but that doesn’t include PR reps and folks related to sponsors and family members.
According to Miles, personnel will being arriving on-track on Thursday, June 4, to set up TV equipment, as well as timing and scoring, and they’ll be followed by more series officials Friday before teams – drivers and all – will likely fly in on a couple of large charter planes. They'll have their temperatures taken before boarding and as they land. From there, the entire series contingent will be shuttled to the track Saturday morning via buses, checked once again, and then allowed onto the grounds for the one-day show.
Similar to NASCAR, IndyCar will have requirements to be released to teams at a later date about social distancing, required personal protective equipment and how teams and their cars will be staggered throughout the 128 garage bays at TMS.
But reaching an agreement with all the stakeholders involved more than just a safety plan, as Gossage laid out for IndyStar Wednesday. Because IndyCar’s media rights agreement differs heavily from NASCAR’s (which gives promoters a large chunk of the money from TV rights), IndyCar race promoters make their money by tickets sales, concessions, parking and camping spots, among other things. As the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continued to progress, particularly in Texas, it became increasingly clear to Miles, Gossage and their respective teams that, while abiding by Gov. Greg Abbott’s guidelines, admitting several thousand fans wouldn’t be tenable.
The concern then, from Gossage’s point of view, was how could he hold a race that required him to pay a six- or seven-figure sanctioning fee, while paying overhead costs without reaping anything in return.
Though Miles wouldn’t go into details on the sanctioning fee, he explained that both sides found ways to trim a long list of expenses on TMS’ side to only the vitals – including creating a plan with NBC Sports to have the track’s infield event signage be projected virtually onto the TV broadcast for viewers, rather than having it painted onto the grass (which is traditional) for a mid-five-figure cost.
“Normally, he’d have obligations for us for some of our sponsors, but we went through and said that if the item has to do with exposure or branding on TV, we need to keep it, but if it’s about entertaining fans or branding for fans (at the track), then we don’t,” Miles said. “From there, it wasn’t too hard to get things settled.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.