Postponed Indy 500 puts short-track drivers in spotlight

Full Screen
1 / 19

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

A fan watches as cars practice on a short dirt track at Gas City I-69 Speedway, Sunday, May 24, 2020, in Gas City, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

GAS CITY, Ind. – The roaring engines and flying dirt pellets briefly brought Gas City I-69 Speedway back to life Sunday.

It wasn't the same.

The grandstands were empty. Track organizers only allowed a few crew members per team to comply with Indiana's social gatherings limit. Gabe Wilkins even brought a car with the freshly painted word “covid" next to his No. 19.

And despite being on center stage with nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway still silent, everyone sensed something was missing. Seventy-five miles away, the Indianapolis 500 was devoid of a crowd, the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana," even A.J. Foyt on its traditional race day.

“I went to my first Indianapolis 500 in 1969, and I love the 500," track promoter Jerry Gappens said. “So it sure hasn't felt like Memorial Day weekend. We're not the Indianapolis 500 but at least we have racing and that's a good sign."

Dirt tracks, like this one in northeastern Indiana, have served as the lifeblood of automobile racing for decades. Some of the sports biggest stars began their careers at places like Gas City, rolling cars off haulers and working with family members in parking lots to solve problems.

Now, with the sports world revving up again, these sorts of venues could become a central component in establishing how to put fans back in the stands.

Leisure sports are leading the way with golf courses rapidly reopening, celebrity foursomes becoming all the rage and outdoors sports such as fishing, hiking and cycling surging in popularity as state's relax stay-at-home orders.