Yes, I am aware there were two other marketing-of-indycar-type articles written today. What can I say, great minds think alike…
Nothing earth shattering this week. With, for once, not much news of note happening right now it would be a good time to finally put a weird, transient thought stream into solid writing. This is always the reasoning I use when trying to put my unnatural fascination with racing into words that non racing, or even sports fans, can digest. They may not agree with it, but they usually can understand where I am coming from. I understand that many, if not all, could be applied to other racing series but this is indycar and thats all that matters.
The Emotion is Real – Sam Schmidt and Alex Tagliani sharing a tearful embrace after winning at Indy. Helio Castroneves showing his utter displeasure for race control to Charles Burns. Will Power flamboyantly displaying his opinions about race control through wonderful nonverbal communication. The list could go on… We know there is just as much emotion in other forms of racing, but we don’t get to see too much of it. It has always been my opinion that there are no higher stakes than indycar oval racing in motorsports and as fans we often get a front row seat to the turmoil that goes hand in hand with indycar racing. For better or worse.
Its life and Death – Our sport is not a sport that is dangerous, it is defined by danger. We have been in a time of relative safety in comparison to history, but that changes nothing. When a football player pulls his helmet down getting hurt, or worse, is far from his mind. He is running plays, breaking down the game or just simply enjoying the care free nature of his career. For a racecar driver, more specifically open wheel drivers, and even more specifically indycar drivers doing average laps speeds of 220 wheel to wheel, it’s a bit different. Each and every driver knows he may never pull his helmet off once it’s strapped on. He may never be able to debrief with engineers or have a family dinner again. This reality is the world they choose to live in; the world we choose to be a part of. I cannot think of anything more real than this.
The Heroes become Villains – Because we get to watch the careers of drivers from the earliest days through retirement, it often feels like we experience the life of our favorite drivers while they are. Danica Patrick is the most stunning example of recent history. Once the golden goose of the series and after one comment on a track PA system she became public enemy number one in many fans eyes. This same type of story has been repeated throughout open wheel history. What will become of Hinchcliffe and Newgarden in ten years? Who knows, but the story will be awesome to watch.
The Villains become Heros – On the flip side, some of the most hated drivers become the fan favorite underdog. These drivers are not loved in spite of their history, but because of the tough road and heartwarming turn around. Paul Tracy was the antithesis of a clean cut, sponsor rep for the later years of ChampCar. He was disliked because of his brash attitude and physically confrontational discussion style. Now, he is the underdog of underdogs; the martyr of a forgotten time. I don’t think there is a single person not pulling for ol’ PT to get a ride; even if it’s just to hate him on track once he gets it. When he retires he will be known as the last man racing to hold a CART championship; the final link to the most recent golden era of championship racing.
Our Show is Never Cancelled – Barring the complete and simultaneous implosion of American open wheel racing and the Indy 500, we will always have at least one episode a year. Some years it seems we are closer to the edge than others, but could you really see a scenario where there is nothing but NASCAR left? I absolutely cannot. We have been going for over 100 years and there is no end in sight. On a large enough time scale, everyone gets replaced by new cast members; drivers, owners, team members, even sanctioning bodies. The show still goes on because it always has. Maybe that is an ignorant view about modern racing but our history tells a different story.
Our stars are never fired – With the glaring example of Rick Mears, modern racing does not let its stars walk away. They are slowly pushed to the back of the field before they quietly fizzle out. Take AJ Foyt as the prime example; a giant in our sport that, by his own admission, stuck around too long. PT is setting himself up for the same outcome and, once again, we will find repeating examples of this same story. Drivers don’t just walk away; they stick around for as long as humanly possible. The hold out hope of catching that mysterious “just one more” ride until the phone stops ringing and they slip into unannounced retirement.
It is sometimes sad to watch our rookies start as heroes, become villains and finally regain underdog hero status only for us to watch them struggle at the back of the field before hanging the gloves up. But this is the reason I watch; to become part of the lives and struggles of these modern day gladiators. Numerous reality type shows will be created and die even faster, but we have had the best one ever made running in front of our eyes for the last 100 years. The fanatical love, just as much as the tyrannical hate for the series is the result of so many years of history and memories; of life and death; of good and evil. The season premiere airs March 25th, check your local listings for time and channel. Ill be watching, will you?