INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – After the mass shootings at a South Texas school and a Buffalo supermarket, Indianapolis 500 officials said on Thursday there was a high level of concern around this year’s race while foreign drivers expressed shock at the incidents.
Weather is usually the main worry ahead of the Indy 500 but the cloud hanging over the run-up to Sunday’s race is the massacre that occurred at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School on Tuesday when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.
After COVID-19 restrictions limited attendance the last two years, a crowd of over 300,000 is expected to descend on Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) to heighten apprehension around what is billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.
“The level of concern is high,” said IMS president Doug Boles.
“It always has been since 2013 when the Boston (marathon) bombing happened and it caused us to completely rethink the ways we bring customers into the facility.
“Tragic things that have continued to happen in our country recently if you think about Texas and Buffalo and other places that we’ve had challenges in the last 10 days you don’t sleep as well at night.
“I worry a lot about weather, weather is a big challenge but given the world we are in right now there’s a heighten concern.”
Over 1,100 law enforcement officers will be on duty on race day, including undercover, plain clothes and uniformed police.
Boles said preparations have included planning for everything from an active shooter to bombs but IMS has not asked for additional resources following the shootings.
“That’s the number that we believe is the right number for this place to be safe,” said Boles. “So that 1,100 police officers we believe is more than an appropriate level of law enforcement.”
Drivers, particularly those from outside the United States, were trying to get their heads around the shootings and get to grips with the American gun culture.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who spent 10 seasons competing in Formula One before joining IndyCar last year, moved his family to Florida five months ago.
“There are a lot of things that I love in the U.S. and there are a few things I don’t understand coming from Europe,” said Grosjean.
“I am shocked by what happened I just want to believe it won’t happen to my kids, my family but you never know.
“Just hope that those incidents stop happening. School, shopping centres and so on should be places you don’t fear going.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Indianapolis, Editing by Ed Osmond)