IndyCar’s tipping point at St. Pete and what’s ahead for COVID-19 testing
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. –Mark Miles couldn’t point to a single factor that ultimately forced the cancellation of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but the IndyCar CEO conceded there were many.
“There’s a public health risk any time people are getting together,” Miles said Friday afternoon, speaking to reporters 22 hours after IndyCar and the City of St. Petersburg reversed course on a decision to hold the race without fans. “Since our announcement (at 3 p.m. Thursday) that we were going to race without the crowd, we learned that Disney was shutting down. We saw THE PLAYERS Championship go from their announcement they were going to play a major tournament without a crowd to canceling.
“Really there isn’t a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans. I just think that’s reflective of what’s going on in the country and in the world. It’s just the reality that our society right now is discouraging getting people together.”
Miles said an estimated number of 250 people congregating in the IndyCar paddock on a race weekend was “way low” without providing an exact figure.
Before canceling Friday, IndyCar initially condensed the schedule from three to two days Thursday night, a day after race and series officials had indicated no schedule disruptions were expected because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
In a Wednesday interview with RACER, Roger Penske said there were no plans to change “unless instructed by the government and/or health department,” noting that the PGA held a golf tournament last weekend, and Disney World remained open.
The status of both those entities had changed less than 30 hours later, along with The Masters being put on hold.
The cumulative postponements across professional sports effectively marked a collective tipping point for making the call on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which stood to become the only major sports event in the country Sunday (NASCAR made the call to postpone its race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway at virtually the same time).
Friday’s decision also came a few hours before President Trump declared a national state of emergency. IndyCar executives had a heads up the news likely was coming.
“I think it’s the combination of things from last night and further into (Friday) morning,” Miles said. “I won’t point to any one thing. Really, as I said, what’s happening in the country broadly, we just felt like it was the right thing to do to not allow the opportunity for the racers to go racing here.”
IndyCar took precautions, requiring essential personnel to complete a four-question health survey before being cleared for admittance by medical personnel.
Teams also had been provided information on fan interaction and were encouraged to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
With the cancellation or postponement of the first four races of the 2020 season through the end of April, the earliest that the NTT IndyCar Series will be back on track is in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Miles was asked by NBCSports.com whether team members and drivers will be tested for COVID-19 before being cleared to compete at the Brickyard.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Miles said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, quite frankly. That’s one of those things we’ll think through when we know when we can get everybody back together, based on what conditions are at the time. I appreciate that question.”