So Thursday was a weird day. As was Friday. It all started off with so much promise, but we all know how it ended. This is how we got from Point A to Point B.
On Thursday morning, I was getting ready to leave to pick up my press credentials for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when I got a message from a friend and fellow photographer. It was just announced that as things stood, the race would proceed but without spectators. This wasn’t entirely unexpected given that other races, such as the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix had already made a similar move. More information was going to be released at a press conference later that afternoon.
I picked up my credentials and made my way to the track for the first photographers meeting and to get my stylish track-side photo vest. It was around this time that word was coming through that the F1 Australian Grand Prix may or may not be canceled. About the same time, we noticed something. The first cars that were set to take to the track weren’t running. They were stopped just before their session started.
This got people talking.
This got people worried.
I got another message from my friend. He went to pick up his credentials but the pick-up office was closed. It wasn’t supposed to be closed.
This got people even more worried.
Sebring got canceled.
People were not doing good. Some folks had come from out of state and out of the country to cover St. Pete and Sebring in one trip. They had no idea what they were going to do. Would they be stuck in Florida? Would all air travel get shut down before they could get home?
The anxiety started to set in.
I spoke to a handful of people and various contacts. No one knew anything. All anyone knew was that there would be more information at 3:30 pm. With a few hours to kill, I hit the paddock to see what was going on and to take pictures. That was why I was there.
Besides cars not being on track, it was business as usual. The teams from all the series were setting up, working on their cars, sending said cars to tech inspection, and such. But there was something off. Everyone knew the whole race weekend could be called off at any moment.
As I walked around snapping pictures, I asked questions. No one knew anything. The general feeling was that racing without spectators would be better than no race at all.
As 3:30 approached, I made my way back to the media center to see what the word was. Our mayor held a press conference. The only live version I could find of it was a crappy cellphone stream on Facebook with horrible audio. I held my phone close to hear it, with a few other photogs as close as we felt comfortable being to each other. A German (I think) photographer took a picture of us trying to hear what was going on. I need to find that picture.
It turned out, the word turned out to be mostly good.
The race would go on, with a slight schedule change to make-up for the lost track running on Thursday. No spectators would be let in. But there was a kicker... media would be limited. But no one knew exactly what that meant. Or when we would find out.
The bonus for us was that without fans to contend with, the track and grandstands would be a photographer’s playground. Sucks for the fans, but at least we would be able to shoot from places we normally couldn’t. That would be neat.
It was getting late in the day. No new information was available. An evening IndyCar event had be canceled, so there was nothing left to do but go home. And wait.
Around 7:00 pm or so, I get some messages from other photographers that their media credentials have been revoked. The email was blunt. I was freaking out. I didn’t get an email.
I waited around, checking my phone constantly. Nothing. I checked the IndyCar website and social media accounts. The race was still on. Media was to be limited to keep the number of people down at the track.
Hours went by. Nothing. I was about to prepare my gear for Friday. Cars would be running bright and early, and there would be the daily photographers meeting at 8:00 am.
10:45 pm. My phone lit up. It was an email from IndyCar. That was it. I would not be allowed to shoot at the track. More limitations on personnel were being put in place. It wasn’t the same email that went out earlier. I guess I had made the first round of cuts but not the second.
I live close enough to the track that the sound of the cars at 8:00 am woke me up.
A few hours later, while the IndyLights cars were running, the call was made to cancel the race all together. This was not unexpected. Long Beach was canceled on Thursday. F1 was in shambles with how they were handling their event halfway around the world.
IndyCar had, in fact, canceled all events through at least April. This was the right thing to do. With the season on hold, there was no point in running in St. Pete. Besides the COVID-19 issues, there was no reason to risk life and limb with the possibility that the season could be scrapped all together. It’s just not worth it.
IndyCar did a fantastic job in handling all of this. The situation was evolving quickly. IndyCar in conjunction with the city did everything they could to try to have a race. On Thursday when no one knew anything, it wasn’t because IndyCar wasn’t working on it. Information was released as soon as it was available. They did what was right for the fans, the teams, the drivers, the track workers, and everyone else involved.
While F1 was having fans waiting at the gate for a race they knew was not going to happen, IndyCar got ahead of things and took fans out of the equation immediately. Yeah, it sucks. And yeah, some trolls spewed vile comments online riddled with misinformation about COVID-19 and tried to work people into an angry mob. It didn’t work.
Most people are far more sensible than that. If you honestly thought that things should have forward as originally scheduled, then you have serious problems. Sorry you’ll get a refund for your ticket. All of us photographers won’t get paid as there was no job to do.
Ok. Enough with that.
I was able to take a bunch of pictures on Thursday. They aren’t that exciting. But they are photos of race cars.
The biggest let-down for me was not seeing the new IndyCar aeroscreen in action. It looks damn good on those cars. I was really looking forward to seeing it blasting down the start/finish straight. Oh well.
You can see the full gallery of shots on my website. No ads. No bullshit. Just pictures. These are some highlights.
Until next year...