As the minutes ticked closer to the green flag, Roger Penske took in the pageantry from a perch overlooking the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he owns. Then he glanced at his watch. The time? Time to throw open the doors and usher in thousands of Indianapolis 500 fans wearing checkered flag masks and shorts and let them cut loose. “I’m ready to go. We’ve been waiting a year and a half for this,” Penske said. The largest crowd in the world for a sports event showed up in joyous force on Sunday, 135,000 of them packing the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the AP reports. It was only 40% of capacity—that was the figure deemed safe in the pandemic—but it felt like a full house nonetheless.
The fans were treated to a victory by one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar history as Helio Castroneves grabbed the lead late and pulled away for his fourth win in the showcase race. The win helped make it feel like things were back to normal on a cool, cloudless day. The pork tenderloin line? Long. The merchandise shop lines? Long enough to stretch outside the store and mesh with the concession lines. Pit road: Packed. Parking lots: Full. COVID-19 concerns: About none. After fans were banned from the track last August, as a delayed Indy 500 became an empty Indy 500, Sunday’s race seemed to serve as a symbolic milestone that sports in the United States is truly back and open for business. (More on the crowd, and Castroneves' win, here.)