IndyCar Fans Compared To Hockey Fans

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True IndyCar fans are a loyal bunch. We are true to the current version of the sport, for better or worse – while also embracing its history and legacy. At all of the races I have attended over the years, most fans I have encountered have been more than willing to share their knowledge to explain the sport to those that don’t. I always make a point to patiently explain the nuances of this sport to those that come over to my house to watch a race with me. Fans of other sports should follow the lead of IndyCar fans.

I had a very busy sports weekend this past weekend. After watching the Japan race on Friday night, I watched the Tennessee Vols lose to Florida again on television Saturday afternoon. That night, I attended a pre-season hockey game featuring the Nashville Predators. Sunday afternoon, I went to watch the Tennessee Titans get upset by the Houston Texans. Although my football teams lost, the only real bummer of the weekend was the hockey game.

I consider myself a better than average sports fan. As most know, my three favorite sports – in no particular order – are IndyCar racing, college football and pro football. College basketball and baseball are definitely behind those two and then lump in the rest. Somewhere in that lump lies hockey.

I grew up here in the south where there was no hockey. I’m not even sure I ever saw a hockey game on TV until my senior year in high school. It was a foreign culture to us in the south. After the advent of ESPN and the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team, I watched a few games out of curiosity but it never took me by storm. I couldn’t really understand the rules and it just seemed like a sport that northerners and foreigners played.

Fast-forward almost thirty years. Not only are there several NHL teams in the south, but the Nashville Predators play in a building about four miles from my house. Adding to my confusion, my son decided to take up playing hockey for his high school. It was there that I got my first taste of hockey fans.

What does any of this have to do with racing? Hold on…I’m getting there. The parents of all the other hockey kids on my son’s team had all known each other for years. Unbeknownst to me (or my son), hockey is a sport that is taken up about the time a kid grows his first tooth. My son halfway understood the rules, but I didn’t. Imagine these parents dismay when I asked what those blue lines on the ice were for. When I genuinely asked someone to explain the term “icing”, you would have thought I had vomited on one of them the way they recoiled in horror.

I thought these parents were bad until I saw some of the parents of the other schools. They were ten times worse. If I ever tried to strike up a conversation about football with any of this group, I was quickly served notice that no one there cared for football…or any other sport for that matter. I thought this must be a high school hockey phenomenon until I went to a Nashville Predators game. These people were different. It wasn’t the way they talked or dressed or wore their hair. It was their attitude. They hold the “new” hockey fans in complete disdain. Most Predator fans in Nashville are transplants. They grew up all of their lives following hockey. The problem is, they despise anyone who hasn’t followed it forever.

The Predators are a new team that just came into existence in 1997. The die-hard fans practically alienate any casual fans that want to check out this oddity. I’ll confess that even though I still know very little about the sport, seeing an NHL game live is totally different than watching on TV. It’s actually enjoyable if you don’t have to listen to the fans.

The fans are not wild and drunk. That would be acceptable. Instead, they all have a massive chip on their shoulder about the new and uninformed fans invading their sport. It’s as if they don’t want any new fans. These hockey people treat their sport as if it’s a cult and no outsider is welcomed. They would rather sit in an empty arena with a few die-hards than a building packed with cheering fans that don’t quite know what they’re cheering for but they’re having fun. Instead, these miserable, grumbling fans sit and complain about all the newbies that don’t understand their sport.

At the races I have been to over the years, I’ve come across this type of race fan on rare occasions. There are a few bitter Champ Car fans that still grumble about on the message boards that their series was far superior. There’s also the faction that still laments the death of the roadster era and that wings don’t belong on racecars. But overall, the IndyCar fans that I come across are friendly and upbeat about their sport, despite a slew of things about the current series to legitimately complain about. Very few times have I ever heard anyone sneer at what might be perceived as a “dumb” question. I think IndyCar fans are smart enough to know that anytime we can get new fans for our sport – that is a good thing. The more chances that we can get to explain about the intricacies of our sport, the better.

I’m sure there are some hardcore hockey fans that will disagree with me. If so, please enlighten me. I’d love to find out I’m wrong and have only been exposed to a few bad apples. It frightens me to think that the IndyCar Series and the NHL are both on Versus. What exactly does it say about our sport? It says that right now, they are both niche sports. But we don’t have to treat any potential new fans like they are infected with N1H1. Almost every year, I include someone that has never been to a race in our group that goes to Indy each year. It is my goal to make sure they want to go back again. Hockey fans should take that same approach with any casual fans that show any interest in their sport, rather than scoffing at them. Otherwise, they may be looking at fewer fans than the IRL before too long.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “IndyCar Fans Compared To Hockey Fans”

  1. Being a fairly new fan (I’ve said before that this is my first full year following the series, but I’ve always been a 500 girl), I would have to agree that IndyCar fans are wonderful. I really enjoy all the people who are willing to explain what is going on out there, as well as amazing and interesting stories about the past. I love all the blogs out there and the (mostly) great comments that people leave on them. It makes the sport fun and interesting even between races. I also love the accessibility of the drivers and teams themselves. I think you can get a lot more of an inside glance at the sport through their twitter accounts, team websites, and even just meeting them in person that most other sports.

    Since I grew up listening to the 500 on the radio (Indy blackout on TV), I still prefer that experience, but this year I got to go to the 500 after an absence of about 10 years, I think. I have to say that it was better than I remembered. The fans are, for the most part, fun and fun to around. With such a great fan base, I have great hope for the future of the IRL.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Great comment. I also enjoy “amazing and interesting stories about the past” on this weblog. But you’d rather listen to the 500 on radio than view it on TV? Glad that you went to the big show this year!

      • It was always a big deal to set up my radio, scorecard, list of drivers and settle in for the race when I was little. Seems like it was the only day that TV was off limits. So I’m crazy nostalgic! I sill like my radio. : )

        As a silly side note to the radio thing, I used to think that the radio announcer was saying Jack-a-roo when he was really referring to Jack Arute. I thought it was very funny.

  2. Tim Nothhelfer Says:

    If I go to a hockey game I better not ask what happend to the glowing puck I used to see on TV………………….,

  3. I live in Southern Cal and despite Long Beach, there aren’t many Indycar fans–certainly not people who actively follow it. So the times when I bump into them, it’s usually a happy time as we actually have someone we can talk, speculate and complain with.

    • That might be it, JamesO, as Indycar fans seem to be a dying breed, we are more than happy to accomidate others….
      now, as a life-long Blackhawks fan who’s dad played college hockey, I’m more than happy to explain the game to kids, other people at the games, and to my friends living in Chicago who have only just started watching the Hawks. In fact, crowds at games (especially the local minor league team in Rockford, the Icehogs) are full of kids and are the friendlist games of any sport to go to.

      so, here’s two reasons for our very different view on hockey fans, George:

      1) being a hockey fan myself, I’m the one explaining what icing is or how off-sides works, not the one asking. and I’ve been asked those a lot of times, even at many games (including NHL games!) heck, I can’t think of any other fans I hang out with that don’t love to explain the sport of hockey to those new to it, not unlike Indycar fans…

      2) south vs north – the fans in Nashville, being transplants, may be grumpy and protective of their sport. Which is dumb, as I see Nashville’s team as one of them on the chopping block (read: move them) with Phoenix and Florida.
      Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are on a resurgence as of late, led by top young players, so there are a ton of new fans that are suddenly selling out EVERY home game, which is great. I mean, the Blackhawks were voted one of the worst teams in major sports 5 or 6 years ago by ESPN, and now they’re the hottest ticket in town (save the Bears) and are all over the media, which gives me hope for other tradition-laden sports that are suffering(like, say, Indycars!)

  4. Interesting. I’ve only lived in Hockey Towns (Buffalo & Minneapolis) where most people at least know, if not follow, the sport. I’ve never seen the kind of behavior you describe. Must be a combination of being a non-southern sport, in a southern town. I’m guessing the transplants see it as a way to distinguish themselves from the locals, without having to assimilate to life in the South. Sad, because if they really don’t like it their, why live their?

    As for IndyCar fans, I’m afraid their are so few of us we are all on a first name basis. Maybe we are so stunned and surprised to see a new one in our midst, that we fall all over ourselves to sell them the sport.

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