Drivers Still Hate To Lose

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The IZOD IndyCar Series seemingly has been immune to a malady that has afflicted many other sports on several levels – indifference. There have been several instances in the NFL this season that have caused fans to question a player’s dedication to their profession. The most noteworthy example played out before a national audience on Monday night a few weeks ago, when Cardinal’s quarterback Derek Anderson was caught on camera laughing it up on the sidelines, while his team was getting bludgeoned by the 49ers.

Closer to home; while no one disputes the talents of Titan’s running back Chris Johnson, his sideline demeanor made it impossible to tell if the Titan’s were in the midst of a six game losing streak or winning streak. Although the Titans exorcised some of their demons yesterday by beating the Texans, Johnson was caught on camera late in the Titans-Texans game three weeks ago clowning around with teammates in the late stages of a 20-0 shutout. The Titans are so bad this year that no one but the two local markets saw the game, but it got mentioned a few times here the following week.

This isn’t limited to professional football. College players have been too willing lately to mug for cameras and lose their game face regardless of which end of the scoreboard they are on. The same goes for college and pro basketball. Don’t get me wrong – I think players should have fun and not be so stoic all the time, but I think that they should act like losing bothers them as much as it bothers their fans.

Although there is plenty of time for clowning around in the IZOD IndyCar Series, the drivers seem to know when to cut the act and get down to business. Scan the faces of the drivers during the singing of the National Anthem prior to the Indianapolis 500. Not many of them look like they are contemplating their next celebration dance.

Which brings me to another rant regarding the NFL…what is it with these pre-game speeches from the most vocal player on the team (Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, etc) that is followed by what sounds like a pack of barking dogs? Talk about contrived – they all seem to wait before the cameras for NFL Films is there before starting their chant. Every team has started to do it within just the past few years. It’s ridiculous sounding. If that ritual motivates anyone, I question their drive. I cannot imagine Scott Dixon leading his crew through a series of chants and responses like that. Anyway, I digress…

This may be one reason why I’m so attracted to racing. All of the participants still take it very seriously. Granted, the consequences of a mistake are much higher in motor sports than in stick and ball sports. If someone gets too careless and misses a blocking assignment, the quarterback might get sacked. The worst outcome is that the team may lose a game or worse yet, the quarterback might sustain an injury.

In the IZOD IndyCar Series – a mistake can cost someone his or her life. Each week, about 1,400 players will participate in an NFL game. Yes, many will be injured – some injuries will be career threatening and life-altering. Very few will sustain life-threatening injuries. The only player fatality in the NFL that I am aware of was in 1971, when Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions collapsed on his way back to the huddle and died of a heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears.

Unfortunately, death will always be a part of racing. Whether or not Randy Bernard and most fans (myself included) get their wish to start pushing for new track records, if you hit the wall in the wrong spot going over 200 mph – the consequences can be deadly. I don’t know if a lot of people realize how lucky Vitor Meira was to come away from his 2009 crash at Indy with “only” a broken back. Had that crash occurred a few years ago before the SAFER barriers were installed (thanks to NASCAR, no doubt), he probably would not have survived.

Although racers will never publicly acknowledge that death ever enters their thought process, the possibility is always there and it probably affects their demeanor prior to a race.

But what about after a race? Fans complain when a driver criticizes her…eh, um…their crew for not doing something right, but in some ways – you can’t blame them. If a crew member forgets to put the right bolt back on correctly, it’s the driver that suffers far worse consequences than the crew member. But it’s not just their own safety that a driver frets about after a race. Drivers still hate to lose.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chastised for saying that Rafa Matos appeared to accept losing. I didn’t say he DID accept it, I said he gave that appearance that he accepted losing. I don’t pretend to know what goes on his head. I’ve never met Rafa Matos. I can only go by the brief glimpses I’m given through television. But from what I saw, Matos never gave the impression that he was terribly bothered by another bad day at the track. There is a fine line between being a good sport and being OK with losing. Of course, it might explain why an announcement is coming later today that will more than likely announce that his seat at de Ferran Dragon is being given to Tony Kanaan.

Some accuse Kanaan of being a brooding pouter. He can be, when he loses or is given an uncompetitive car. Based on the car that Matos was driving the past two seasons, he may be pouting a lot more. But I’ll promise you that Kanaan’s presence will get better performance from that entire team than the nonchalant attitude of Matos.

Some of the older NFL players do seem to care when their team loses. There is no question who won the game when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is at the podium. It’s the younger generation of players who know that regardless of how they played on Sunday, they’ll still be getting a check on Tuesday. I’m personally glad that Will Power was almost despondent after slapping the wall at Homestead and costing himself the championship. He should have been. Had he gotten out of the car wearing a smile and joking around, I would have questioned his desire and commitment. As a fan, it bothers me that I care more about the outcome of a Titans game than some of the players

Although the IZOD IndyCar Series is on a definite upswing right now, there is no denying that there have been some very serious and legitimate concerns by fans in the past. Some of the previous administration made some very bone-headed moves and the league suffered accordingly. But not once did I ever hear any fans say that they thought the drivers were indifferent about their performance. Winning and losing still matters to them.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “Drivers Still Hate To Lose”

  1. I think auto racing is still inherently dangerous in a way that football, basketball, etc., isn’t. Now, there are some hardcore competitors in thaose sports. You don’t find Peyton Manning laughing at a blowout; Kevin Garnett has a white-hot focus on winning.

    But honestly, endeavors like the NFL have paled for me in recent years. I don’t like the overhyped, overproduced “entertainment” game it’s become, played by athletes who at times seem apathetic. As I said, there’s great competitors in the NFL, but you notice the Chris Johnson and Derek Anderson cases, you know? Thank goodness I have IndyCar.

  2. I think–in pro sports–that the competition is still pretty intense when and if the game means something. When the game is meaningless, as many of them are, the intensity falters a bit. Also the money is so huge that they sometimes have to consider the cost/benefit factor. Like–do I really want to go up for that pass on a crossing route in December when my team is out of the playoffs anyway. Racers–Indy and Nascar–seem pretty focused most of the time for the reasons you stated. But there are start and parkers in Nascar and there are non-competitive teams in Indycar who just put down laps.

  3. Chris Johnson can’t help that his coach has lost the team and his head can stray because of it. As for the pregame pep talk from the captains and coaches, that has always been a part of the game. The cameras know its coming and get to the players to show it because it makes for great TV. We did it in high school and that was a long time ago. As for IndyCar drivers, I wouldn’t pull for one who didn’t want to win. I still follow Tony Stewart in NASCAR because of that trait and it is something I liked about AJ Foyt. I can only follow those that want to win like that.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I don’t think you barked like animals to the militaristic cadence of one of your leaders when you played high school football. As for Jeff Fisher…he has NOT lost the team.

  4. I’ve been around pro athletes of all sports (especially baseball) a lot, and they are all insanely competitive individuals. You have to be in order to get to that level. I had an uncle who was a pro baseball player and played college basketball, and he HATED to lose. I remember him once even talking trash and then getting upset when he lost a game of lawn darts at a family reunion.

    Some just don’t show it the way we would like them to, and others reach the point where they are only concerned about themselves (I do think Johnson is a guy who doesn’t care about winning or losing, so long as he gets his carries).

    In some sports where the season is so long you have to keep and even keel or it will eat you alive. So those guys go out to win ever game, but at the same time they don’t live or die with it. A baseball player would have to be committed if they did. “That’s baseball” is a phrase I hear a lot from guys because one, they know even in an MVP year they are going to make 400 outs in a year and two, when you win 100 games you still lose two months worth of them, and most of those losses are out of your control.

    I think IndyCar drivers have to have a more laser-like focus than other athletes given their margin of error, but to say they care about winning and losing more than other athletes is a broad stroke. That said, what I do like about IndyCar is that EVERY RACE COUNTS. You don’t have the luxury of having a bad day, in many of the ways you mentioned, especially when it comes to the championship. So of course many of these guys are going to take winning and losing very personally, as they well should.

  5. Lindy Tungsten Says:

    Yes there is nothing contrived in racing.

    The NASCAR victory lane celebrations. Victory donuts and burnouts. Danica putting on her “show” after someone has wronged her. Paul Tracy playing a WWE character. Kyle Busch doing the same. The Waltrip’s. Digger The Gopher.

    Most of these race drivers are from very, very privaledged families and have more money then they could ever spend anyway. And in NASCAR you can make millions of dollars by just running 26th every week and selling a bunch of souvineer crap.

  6. Wow, it had been a long time since the last time I strongly disagreed with one of your articles, George.

    A few minutes after Castroneves lost the 2010 Edmonton race, he was smiling at the camera. He wasn’t happy at all, yet he wanted people to look at him and feel ok. After all, sport is just another form of entertainment. Drivers and all sportsmen feel bad when they lose, but that shouldn’t forbid them to feel good that they had a nice race / match of the sprot they love to do.

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