INDIANAPOLIS Security around the Indianapolis 500 will be beefed up this weekend following Monday's suicide bomb attack in Manchester, England, speedway officials said on Wednesday.
Securing the sprawling 2.5 mile oval for a race that attracts over 300,000 spectators is always a massive challenge but Monday's attack, which killed 22 people, and the potential presence of U.S. vice-president Mike Pence will make protecting Sunday's 101st Indy 500 even more problematic.
Further complicating the situation is the threat of severe weather that could force the evacuation of the Speedway on Sunday and concerts planned on Friday and Saturday featuring Keith Urban and the Steve Miller Band, each attracting larger crowds than the one that filled Manchester Arena, the site of Monday's bombing, for an Ariana Grande pop concert.
"One thing fans may notice this year, there will be an increased presence of armed law enforcement folks wandering through the grounds," Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) president Doug Boles told reporters.
"We are talking on a regular basis throughout the day to local, state and federal authorities to make sure there are not threats and at this point there is nothing we are aware of from the Speedway standpoint."
Pence, an Indiana native who Boles estimates has been to as many as 30 Indy 500s, has yet to confirm his attendance but the IMS is preparing for a vice-presidential visit.
The Indy 500 has been given a Homeland Security SEAR 2 (Special Event Assessment Rating) designation allowing federal assets to be brought in to enhance security efforts around what is regarded as the world's largest single day sporting event.
Only events such as the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican conventions have greater security ratings.
Local, state and federal agencies will contribute to security efforts, which will include sniffer dogs, license plate recognition equipment and multiple security checkpoints to enforce restrictions on what will be allowed in on race day.
"We have not had confirmation from the vice-president's office however we are preparing for if in fact it (Pence's visit) does happen," said Boles.
"We are beginning to figure out if he is here where do we have to worry about stopping pedestrian flow to get him from one point to another."
The Indy 500, run on the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the U.S. heartland, is a uniquely American event and while this year's race will not be a sell-out, over 300,000 fans are expected a the IMS making it a potential target for attacks.
Boles said this is not new ground for the Speedway, which overhauled its security plans following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and tweaked them last year for the 100th anniversary of the race after the Islamist attacks in Paris in November 2015.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)