Steeped in tradition and attracting around 300,000 spectators each year, the Indianapolis 500 is rightly known as ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’. Or, as Indycar racer Jack Harvey describes it, “a next-level shindig”.
Well, you can take the man out of Lincolnshire… Harvey, 27, may still use the occasional phrase that reflects where he grew up, but he has been a racer in the US since 2014 and is focused firmly on creating a career there. This weekend, he’s set to compete in his fourth Indy 500 and his first as a full-time Indycar Series driver. And the spectacle of the 500-mile oval race is a key part of that.
“The first time I went to the 500, I wasn’t racing, but it was just amazing,” recalls Harvey. “I had never seen that many people in one place, never seen that many people excited for what was about to come. Understanding what the 500 represents to Indianapolis as a city is mindblowing. I know what this race means to the motorsport world, but seeing what it meant to the community was something else. It sounds cheesy, but there were goosebumps. I’m British, but when they played the American anthem, I was almost choked.”
This year’s Indy 500 will predictably be a very different affair, due to the pandemic. First, it has been postponed from its traditional late-May date until August, a move initially made by circuit owner Roger Penske in the hope that fans could attend. But as the coronavirus continued to spread in Indiana, attendance was capped first at 50% capacity, then 25%. Finally, the decision was to run the event without fans, potentially robbing it of much of its pomp, tradition and atmosphere.
“It’s just so 2020, isn’t it?” says Harvey. “The thing that’s cool about the 500 is the tradition. But in a year like 2020, you can’t be rigid, in a way. You have to be flexible, and everybody at the speedway has made the most of an extremely difficult situation. It’s going to be as different as different can be. However – and it’s a big however – it’s still the Indy 500, it’s still one of the biggest races in the world. If you won, when you looked back, it wouldn’t matter that you won it this year. You would celebrate a win the same way.”