Beware The Bitter Race Fan

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One quick note…I want to give a quick shout-out to a great new blog out there. I found this site a little over a week ago. I like it because it reminds me of how this site started – two longtime friends that tossed an idea around and just decided to do it. In my case, I do the bulk of the writing – but don’t underestimate the effort that Bruce Yarbro did on the front-end and the work that Susan Scruggs does behind the scenes. This new site seems to be more of a collaborative effort between two very passionate IndyCar fans, Tug Townsend and Michael Duning. Plus, their site looks a lot more professional than mine. I’ve linked them to my blogroll. Check them out at First Turn Spin. – GP

While many, myself included, really seemed to like the new qualifying format this past weekend – there were those that had very strong opinions the other way. I have been listening to Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee almost every night during the month of May. Although they have not been taking many callers, they read plenty of e-mails and by listening to their show – you would get the idea that fans were very pleased with the format.

However, when I was in Indianapolis last weekend – I was listening to other call-in shows while sitting in traffic. It was there that I heard the “other” side. The other side didn’t like it at all. In fact, they didn’t seem to be in favor of anything. All they knew was that things weren’t like the way they used to be.

Those that have known me for a while, know that my mantra in life is that “change is bad”. I am a creature of habit. There is nothing that I like better than a good rut. Take a different route to work some day? Not me. Shave before I brush my teeth? No way. To change my routine basically screws up my entire day. It ensures that I will forget something.

For no apparent reason, Indy500.com just changed up their entire website. Just when I knew where everything I wanted was, they changed it all up, took a lot of things off and basically made it much more cumbersome to navigate. Why did they do this? Just to change things up. Change is bad!

But even someone that is as rigid and inflexible as I am, knows when a change needs to be made. You know the old saying; insanity is doing things the exact same way while expecting different results. As much as it goes against my nature to say it, change can be…(gulp)…good. This is why practically the entire field changed to rear-engine cars in the mid-sixties.

Growing up a fan of the Indianapolis 500 in the sixties, I was used to change. That change was called innovation. Perhaps if I had grown up in an earlier decade, I would be more resistant to changes at the Speedway. By the time I arrived for my first race in 1965, the rear-engine revolution was well underway. In fact – it was almost complete, as there were only six front-engine cars in the starting field. By the time I returned in 1967, there were none. The last front-engine car ever, made its last appearance in 1968 for a grand total of nine laps. By this time, it was in the same field with three wedge-shaped turbines, turbocharged four-cylinder Offy’s and V-8’s. The next few years would see wings and all types of wedge-shaped designs.

In fact, about the only thing that has actually remained constant over the 101-year history of the track is change. There have been changes in the rules, changes in the formula, changes in the sanctioning body and changes in the surface and physical appearance of the entire facility. Other than change, the only thing to remain the same is the physical dimension of the track. Once, they even changed the scheduled distance. In 1916, they decided to shorten the race to only three hundred miles – foolishly thinking that the fans wanted this. After Dario Resta’s 300-mile victory and a two year hiatus for World War I, the original distance was re-instated for 1919.

Those that called in to voice their displeasure last weekend, could not actually articulate a reason for their dislike of the new format – except to say it wasn’t the way it used to be and that it was a gimmick. Do these people still have rotary dial phones in their homes? Do they use air-conditioning? Certain things simply evolve. I suppose they were also opposed to the SAFER barrier because they just don’t have as many fatalities as they used to.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still an ardent traditionalist. I realize that Jim Nabors won’t last forever. That’s why I savor every year that he continues to bellow out those magical notes of “Back Home Again In Indiana” just before the command to start engines. Speaking of traditions, that command from the most senior member of the Hulman-George family is pretty special too – as well as “Taps”, the balloons, the drinking of milk, the yard of bricks, the field of thirty-three, Tom Carnegie, etc. None of those things should be touched, tweaked or messed with in any way.

But I have no problem with changing of the formula or the way the field is filled. It’s called evolving. I’m not a fan of concerts on the Coca-Cola stage behind the Pagoda on Pole Day. I personally think that the actual on-track activity should be enough of a draw, but I understand that not everyone is as drawn to the track as I am. Some need another reason besides cars on a track to come to the Speedway – so if that’s what it takes to get people out there, I’m fine with it. Maybe while those concert goers are there, they might actually become fans.

But I’ve heard of some fans that just get totally disgusted with the concerts and lash out at those attending them. They are actually offended that that is why people come out. I’ve got news for them – be glad they are out there at all. If the Speedway was counting on die-hard IndyCar fans only, the place would seem empty and cavernous – and wouldn’t present a very marketable picture for future potential attendees.

So if you’re upset over the change in the qualifying procedure, my advice is to lighten up. I think once this year’s race is behind them, the powers that be will sit and analyze everything and possibly re-tweak the top-nine shoot-out. There are also those that call it a gimmick. Most of the traditions of the Speedway that we hold so dear, probably were considered gimmicks when they started. Most traditions don’t start out with the idea that this will be a "new" tradition. That truly is a gimmick. But if you think we’re going back to a four-day format anytime soon – you’re going to continue be a frustrated, miserable and bitter race fan.

I have confidence in Randy Bernard. For once, I feel like there is a savvy marketing person in charge that actually has the fans interest at heart. The old regime seemed to treat fans with a certain touch of arrogance – as if the fans didn’t really know what was best for them. Randy Bernard seems to get it, that it’s the fans that pay the bills. Give him time and some flexibility to change things without getting bitter about it. Surely, no one would be bitter about re-establishing the rightful prominence of this race among today’s society.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Beware The Bitter Race Fan”

  1. Tim Nothhelfer Says:

    I’ve never been to Indy, so my perspective on the event is from television, (btw my wife hates the new IndyCar beta website too….)
    I lament the multiple changes in configurations to HMS, and the loss of traditional spring training. Next year or the year after the Homestead race will probably be off the schedule too.
    But I look forward to getting to the speedway, it all sounds really good to me.

  2. We all know that I’m the posterboy for bitterness!

    I’ve got just one dislike of the fast 9, and that is the fact that it reduces the chances for the underdog to grab the pole. When you have to guess the perfect time of day to run, have your car set just right and miss the unlucky gusts, the underdogs chances decline as each car has more chances to run. Forcing them all to go in the same 90 minute window really closes the door on the underdogs.

    I can live with that because in the end they will, more often than not, put the fastest pole day car on the pole. If, however, the fastest time of the day came earlier in the day and nobody bested it after 4:00 I would have a big issue. I also dislike how sensitive to weather this format is.

    My larger issue is with the ability to pull and requalify a car that is in the field on Bump day. I am truely bitter that the rules in place since 2005 can create a field that excludes any of the 33 fastest qualifiers.

    In my mind there should be 2 hard and fast rules: 1) the fastest pole day run is awarded the pole and 2) the fastest 33 cars make the race. Use any gimmick or twist you want, but don’t deny the 500 these two basic tenets. I know I complain a lot, but surely I’m not asking too much with here am I?

  3. Rick Austin Says:

    If people are charged up about the qualifying changes this year they really must be ticked off about:

    *The periodic re-building of the Pagoda structures.

    *Allowing Nascar, F1 and MotoGP tp run at Indy (and to allow motorcycles to be parked on the backstretch. And F1 prima donnas land their choppers on the golf course for entry and egress).

    *When IMS added extra turn to the turns to square them off to slow down the speeds.

    They need a life.

  4. A very well timed column today, George. Reading Robin Miller’s SpeedTV.com mailbag yesterday (which I’m not sure why I do anymore because it’s filled with letters from seemingly the same 10-20 malcontents every week), I was struck by just how many people seem to be stuck in a time when there were 40-50 cars coming to the Speedway every year, when 100,000 people would show up for Pole Day (because there wasn’t much of anything else to do in Indy or anywhere else at this time of year), when there were no DVDs, video games or giant TVs at home, or crazy well organized kids sports, or tons of outdoor hobbies, or Youtube, or whatever, all of which pull peoples’ attention away from the track, and how many of those people that just can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that things have changed. One guy was even pining for the days of “Clark, Hill, Unser, Foyt, Gurney, Donahue, McLaren, Andretti, Mears, Rutherford and on and on”. Um, sir? Two of those guys have been dead for over 40 years. Two more have been dead for more than 35 years. None of them have turned a lap in anger at the Speedway (unless you count Mario’s test that resulted in him flipping a few years ago) in over 15 years. Uh, things change. If you’re looking for a return to 1975, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. A lot of current fans (myself included) weren’t even alive then. Better to try to keep up with the times and adjust your mindset accordingly, I think, otherwise you’re liable to wind up a bitter, old man.

  5. I’ll order off the menu on the poll. I think some things need to be changed. I don’t necessarily agree that people know what they’re doing, or are always doing things for the right reasons.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I’m going to have to remain bitter about the changes to the Indy 500 website until the photo archives are restored. I’ve been robbed of my annual tradition of looking at Sheldon Kinser’s Sergio Valente car.

  7. George Beware the CAVE people. Citizens Against Virtuall Everything…

  8. Maybe I drank too much Kool-Aid, but I feel very optimistic about the direction the Greatest Spectacle and the IIRS is headed. They are walking a tightrope between changes that might draw new fans while hanging onto the traditions loved by the old ones. Izod is doing a tremendous job of championing the series. I feel good about the new chassis and engine changes (whatever that is and whenever that occurs), and the 50/50 championships. I like the partnership with Versus and see that growing in the near future. I see more drivers and more sponsors. I was happy to see Sunoco coming on as a sponsor to the series. I think Bernard is doing a very good job. And I’m really looking forward to this weekend’s 500 mile race.

  9. Savage Henry Says:

    I agree that keeping the raceday traditions is extremely important. When I’ve been away from the speedway for a few years its awesome to know that there is going to be the Purdue Marching Band, “Back Home Again in Indiana”, the balloons, and all of the pomp and circumstance, just like when I was a kid. That’s Indy! I get a little emotional.

    However, how we get there needs to be able to change with the times. There’s no reason to have all of the cars on-track for a whole month – they’ve been running the same car/tire/engine package for 10 years! There’s nothing experimental going on. There are no new technologies to shake down. I hope the day comes where there’s a need for the month-long format to return. I also like the Fast 9 and anything that brings more interest to qualifying.

    However, I agree with Scott that some of the changes put the small teams at a disadvantage. First, even if a small team makes the Fast 9, they are not going to be able to go all-out, especially if they only have one car. Notice this year that Rahal, Carpenter, and Mutoh didn’t even try to push it in the Fast 9. They were so happy to be in the first three rows that they didn’t want to risk wadding up their cars and screwing themselves for the race. The better-financed teams have more leeway. To rectify this issue, if a car puts up an excellent time in the 1st round of qualifying, they should have the right to sit on that time and use it for their Fast 9 time. Anyone who runs in the Fast 9 has the opportunity to beat it. (Here’s the rub, you need to choose to sit on your time prior to the start of the Fast 9. If you choose to sit on the time, you waive your right to run in the Fast 9).

    Second, the fact that there is no on-track activity between the end of qualifying and Carb Day really hurts small teams that just made it into the race. When do they have time to work on race setups? I’m thinking about the Junk-man – he’s going into the race on 7 laps on Bump Day and whatever he was able to do in the hour of Carb Day. Also guys like TK who changed cars (again) and Saavedra who had to have his car put back together. How much benefit are they really going to get out of Carb Day? To rectify this, they need to open the track for practice at least one day between Bump Day and Carb Day.

    • Good thoughts about the Fast 9 format, but I’ll just offer that the track has historically always been closed between Bump Day and Carb Day. That’s no different than it’s ever been.

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