INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – What once was billed the Thirty Days of May is now down to a half-dozen, maybe fewer if the rain continues.

The traditional monthlong Indianapolis 500 schedule, first trimmed amid fears of a gas shortage in the 1970s and then adjusted and readjusted several times over the years, has taken another hit because of the state of the economy.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has laid off employees to save money, closed the Brickyard Crossing Inn, a hotel just outside the track’s second turn, and lopped two days off the practice time leading up to the May 24 race.

Rain halted Wednesday’s practice after just 45 minutes, leaving two days – both forecast with a 40 percent chance of rain – before the start of qualifying on Saturday.

“Everyone’s in the same boat. All teams are prepared for it, ready for it,” veteran Scott Sharp said. “You get quite an amount of practice time here … probably more than you ever needed. You go to other tracks, three days, you do everything.

“So it’s great there’s still a lot more time here. Obviously the speed and the track and the history and the heritage warrant it, but whether you need three weeks or two weeks or one week is debatable.”

In deciding to cut back the schedule, it was clear to the Speedway and the Indy Racing League that many aspects of the race hadn’t changed, making it possible for drivers to re-acclimate quickly.

“From a team standpoint, we’re in the fifth or sixth year of this formula – Dallara chassis, Firestone tires and Honda engines – so the teams are very, very familiar with this combination,” Speedway spokesman Ron Green said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t take them long, as Paul Tracy displayed yesterday, to get up to speed and then to dial them in for a race setup or a qualifying setup. So that was definitely considered.”

It also helped that the month’s activities were augmented last weekend with a series of balloon races to commemorate the track’s centennial celebration. The first event at the Speedway was a balloon race in 1909, two years before the first Indy 500.

In the end, adjusting practice time because of the economy “was not a hard decision to make,” Green said.

There are two hours of practice time scheduled Saturday before qualifications and another hour on Sunday. After that, the track is closed until the following Thursday, leaving just two more full days of practice before the race.

Tracy, back at the track for the first time since he was runner-up to Helio Castroneves in 2002, was allowed to practice during Tuesday’s opening session with the rookies and was quickly up to more than 223 mph.

In a way, he said, the cutbacks might benefit his KV Racing Technology team, which is fielding a second driver for the first time this season.

“We’re on a limited-mileage program anyway, so we weren’t going to run all that much,” Tracy said. “And to have the car right (after Tuesday’s practice), I think we can just really concentrate on what we need to do. We’re not struggling.”

No other IndyCar track has more than three days for practice, qualifications and the race. The Speedway won’t say how much money it’s saving by the cutback – just as it never announces attendance or revenue – and it shouldn’t greatly affect the teams, defending Indy champion Scott Dixon said.

“You’ve still got the same amount of tires. You might burn a little less fuel, but fuel is probably the cheapest thing that comes into the car. If it does (save money), it’s very minimal,” Dixon said.

Team Penske, which has won a record 14 times at Indy, also doesn’t expect much difference, even for new driver Will Power.

“The weather is really the question,” team president Tim Cindric said. “The facts are we didn’t reduce the number of tires or the miles you can run. Last year, there was a little more self-policing. It certainly puts more pressure on pole day, especially for those with less experience. Will’s challenge will be to have two days on the track with a new team at a place he has only run once.”

As far as saving money, Cindric said that, too, will be minimal.

“There’s certainly a savings, I’d think for the Speedway because it’s not open as much,” he said. “But for our organization, we’re here for the month of May regardless. So it’s really a savings of less risk of an accident. We came in a day later, so I guess we saved a day’s worth of money.”

AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-06-09 1555EDT

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