Should We Wear A Driver’s Shoes?

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Last Friday’s article on Marco Andretti brought varied reaction from many sides. I appreciate comments that don’t agree with me, so please don’t think I am being defensive with this article. In fact, the purpose of today’s post is the result of a point brought up about the Marco article that actually raises a good question – Do bloggers have the right to criticize drivers when we have never walked in their shoes?

I’ll start by saying what I have tried to convey from the beginning…I am not a journalist. I don’t pretend to be one nor do I have the training for it. I think I have a decent understanding of the many facets of IndyCar racing, but I never lose sight of the fact that I am nothing more than a fan that likes to write about a sport that I am very passionate about. But does that give me or any other blogger the moral right to criticize drivers that we normally don’t know personally and may have never even met?

Well, my answer to that question is a simple “Yes”.

Although I am not a journalist, there are many parts of this sport that I feel like I and many of my fellow bloggers know more about, than some of the mainstream journalists that attempt to cover this sport. I’m not speaking of Gordon Kirby, Robin Miller, Curt Cavin or the others that have dedicated years to following the sport. However, there are many drive-by journalists who attend a race and feel as if they are qualified enough to write a story about it. But even the most novice of writers could look at Marco’s results and come to the conclusion that he has underperformed and has basically been trading off of his name.

I have never driven a racecar in competition. Even driving an IndyCar chassis with a motorcycle engine was enough for me to gain a whole new level of respect for those that drive for a living. Let me be the first to say that even in my prime, I would not have had the bravery nor the skill to even be a backmarker in the IndyCar Series. That being said, I don’t think that I have to be a veteran driver before I can pass judgment on whether or not a driver is living up to their potential.

I can give a million different overused analogies such as; I don’t need to be a chef to know that I’m eating in a bad restaurant, I don’t have to be a movie director to know a bad movie when I see it or I can criticize the president without being in politics – but I won’t. Instead, I’ll go back to some of the journalists I mentioned. If someone is knowledgeable about a sport, be it football, racing or whatever – then they have the credibility to state their opinion. That goes for bloggers, too.

When someone chooses a profession that pays them an enormous amount of money and showers them with praise and adulation when they succeed, they set themselves up to be judged in the public eye. That judgment comes, not only from paid journalists but also from fans – fans that invest a lot of time, money and energy into the sport they love. That is the downside to the driver’s choice.

It’s the same argument you hear from other pro sports – some say that fans should never boo their home team. I disagree. I’m not in favor of booing collegiate athletes (although I won’t say I’ve never done it); but a pro athlete is different. They are getting paid money – a lot of money – the money from everyday people in the stands. Those people have a right to be heard, when they think the product that they are helping to put out onto the field is underperforming. I’ll promise you that there will be a lot of booing in Nashville if the winless Titans lay another egg this Sunday – and justifiably so.

There are a lot of local and national writers who cover football, but I don’t think any of them played a single down of football beyond high school, if that. I also know a lot of knowledgeable fans that fall into that category. Yet, when they speak about football, I’ll generally listen. I don’t always agree with what they have to say, but it’s not because they didn’t once play pro football.

Robin Miller did actually serve on a few pit crews and drove some midget races, but I don’t recall ever seeing him behind the wheel of a car at Indy. Yet when he speaks of the Indianapolis 500 – I’ll hang on to just about every word he says.

Just like any other group of people anywhere, some bloggers are better than others. There are some that I read on a daily basis, some that I casually go to if I have nothing else to do and then some that I avoid like the plague. I can’t speak for all bloggers, but for myself as well as those blog sites that I visit frequently – we try not to attack anyone personally. We’ll talk about someone’s driving ability or how their off-track demeanor effects the racing community, but I try to stay away from personal lives – unless it has some bearing on their driving or has had a positive outcome. For example, it’s hard to avoid discussing Al Unser, Jr. without getting into his personal demons, yet that is what led to his fall from grace with Penske and eventually ended a stellar career. Fortunately, there appears to be a positive outcome for him.

I don’t feel I led a personal attack on Marco or the Andretti family. I brought to light his mediocre results and mentioned his less than fan-friendly approach to his job, as well as his seemingly poor work ethic. I also relayed my own personal experiences over the years with other members of his family – some positive and some not so positive. Others relayed their own experiences, which were different than my own. I didn’t attack his politics, religion, taste in clothes or anything else that had nothing to do with racing.

Again, I want to emphasize that I am not blasting the individual who said anyone criticizing the Andretti family needed to first walk in their shoes. I thought he/she brought up some interesting points. I’ll admit that when I read the comment, it caused me to stop and think – which is never a bad thing. Ultimately, I had to disagree with the individual. But I never want to discourage anyone from commenting. We are all entitled to our opinions and they will generally differ. If we all shared the same opinion, there would be no need for different blog sites. Then again, if there was no criticism no one would know of a what to improve and we would all be in a perpetual state of mediocrity.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “Should We Wear A Driver’s Shoes?”

  1. The day that IndyCar fandom isn’t offering up unqualified opinions will be a very bad day. Because that means that the League will have died, and nobody cares anymore.

  2. bickelmom Says:

    Personally, I feel like bloggers really add to a sport that isn’t covered much in the mainstream media. We need a place to criticize, discuss, praise and dissect. I watch hours of pre- and post-game stuff on football each week, but that simply isn’t available anywhere for IndyCar except on race days or with the bloggers. Each criticism, when done tastefully and with respect (as I believe you always do, George) brings up a discussion and a way for the fans to interact with the sport. We are the consumers of this IndyCar product, and we need to be able to air our our customer issues.

  3. You have a hell of a way with words, George. That was very well said, and I can’t agree more.

    Roy Hobbson and bickelmon – those are excellent points, too. The fact that we are having these discussions and people like George are giving us the opportunity to have them indicates that there is still a pulse in American open wheel racing. Maybe we’re not the biggest group of fans, but we’re passionate.

  4. Geroge, just keep on calling them as you see them! I’ll keep reading!!

  5. S.S.Minnow Says:

    Good and insighthful follow-up editorial.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to post opinions.

  6. Agreed with Bickelmon in particular. Half the fun of any sport is armchair managing, second guessing, and arguing it with your friends. I know that if I tried driving an Indycar at any speed, I’d put it into the wall. Milka Duno would laugh at me.

    But if you totally go into pure spectator mode, then it simply becomes performance art, and it turns into something like a night at the opera. You may enjoy it, but few people go home and argue or commisserate with their friends that Maria Callas was better, that the First Violin from the Czech Republic is overrated, overpaid and has fingers like sausages. There’s no real emotional involvement.

    Enjoying the misfortune of drivers you don’t like (provided they’re not injured) is part of the fun. When Marco and Danica took out Tony Kanaan (and I’m a big Kanaan fan), I was beside myself with joy. You don’t get that at The Met.

  7. George: 90% agreed with you about Marco :idea: Check the poll results… you have nothing to worry about. Don’t 2nd guess yourself :idea :idea:

  8. The only people B*tchin & Moanin’ were Marco’s mom & a few yes-men from his entourage !!!

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