This Is Why I Follow IndyCar Racing

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With poor TV ratings, partially full stands and the prevailing negativity on TrackForum and other sites that seems to constantly engulf the sport of IndyCar racing – it sometimes takes its toll on the most loyal open-wheel fans. Then something occurs that reaffirms one of the many reasons I follow this sport.

I’m not talking about the good vibes that have permeated the sport since the return of the IndyCar Series to Pocono Raceway last weekend. No, what I’m talking about happened almost a month ago.

Several weeks after New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez allegedly killed a man, the sordid details continue to come out. If all charges are true, it paints a grim picture of someone who seemingly had it all and chose to throw it all away for the sake of a code of the streets. The victim had allegedly “disrespected” (my favorite non-word) Hernandez a few nights before his murder and paid the ultimate price.

Hernandez had recently signed a $40 million contract with the Patriots. He was financially set for life at the age of twenty-three. But if all the allegations are true – he made the choice to forfeit everything in the name of revenge. He is now sitting in a Massachusetts jail cell and staring at the strong possibility of a life sentence.

While murder charges against an active NFL player are rare, they are not unheard of. Rae Carruth of the Carolina Panthers orchestrated the murder his pregnant girlfriend in 1999. After a manhunt that ended near my hometown of Jackson, TN; Carruth was found hiding in the trunk of his car and was convicted. He currently sits in a North Carolina prison, but is inexplicably scheduled for release in October of 2018.

Barely seven months later, a former teammate of Carruth’s was gunned down. Fred Lane had played for the Panthers from 1997 through 1999 before being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for the 2000 season. Lane never played a single down for the Colts. In early July of 2000, Lane had returned to his Charlotte home where his wife, Deidra Lane, shot him dead shortly after he arrived home. She plea bargained a deal to plead guilty of voluntary manslaughter. For whatever reason, Deidra Lane was released from prison in March of 2009.

The list goes on and on. Whether it’s the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball – the courts are filled with incidents involving pro athletes. Hockey players seem to be a pretty well-behaved bunch, so I’ll give the NHL a pass.

The question is…when did this become acceptable behavior? Murder is still considered a crime; but it seems that in today’s gang culture, violence is so prominently glorified in some of today’s music, movies and television – it’s almost something to be admired, in an underground sort of way. It’s carried as some twisted badge of honor.

I’m sure that, given my age, I’m being scoffed at by some as an old goat that is completely out of touch with the way today’s culture operates. But I don’t think so. I think it is these street punks that have infiltrated today’s sports that are out of touch. In the real world, you don’t go around executing people because you have been “disrespected”.

I will also sound old when I say that in my day, athletes were role models. Yes, they liked to party and carouse at night – but they lived within the law and were never intent on hurting anyone. Prominent athletes that I looked up to when I was growing up included Johnny Unitas, Hank Aaron, AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti. These were men who were colorful, yet law-abiding citizens. Foyt would get into the occasional brawl at the track, but never sought anyone out away from the track to exact his revenge.

Fans gripe that the current group of drivers in the IndyCar Series are too foreign, too corporate or too boring. Well, if that’s the worst thing we can say about the drivers we follow throughout each season, then I’d say our series is in good shape. The most controversial driver I’ve seen come along in the past twenty years is Paul Tracy. All he was ever guilty of was making a few crude remarks, shoving a driver or two and being able to drive the wheels off of a racecar when he was in his prime.

That’s not to say that all IndyCar drivers lead perfect lives. Al Unser, Jr. has made some poor choices in his personal life over the years. He has been forced to confront the demons in his life, but by all accounts – he is at least trying. There have also been a few car-owners over the years that have been involved in some shady financial dealings.

But there has been nothing in the past of open-wheel racing that comes even close to what the mainstream stick & ball sports deal with on a weekly basis. Why does the American public put up with it? Does today’s society teach kids that they should only look up to those that live on the edge of the law? Are law-abiding citizens now considered too boring for fans to follow? When did it become cool to be nothing more than a common thug?

Along with my passion for the sport itself, the fact that IndyCar drivers are exempt from such behavior is one reason why I still follow the sport. Fans may moan when either Dario Franchitti or Marco Andretti whine about their troubles in a race; but they know how to behave in society when they leave the track. The positive energy we get from drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, Pippa Mann, Helio Castroneves, Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay is something that is just not that common in other sports. That’s why I follow this sport – the good people that are involved.

Much has been discussed about the tenuous future of IndyCar racing and whether or not it will ever be relevant again in the landscape of American sports. Suggestions have been tossed about as to what changes need to be made in order to draw the attention of the much sought after casual fan. Some suggestions are better than others, but they are all intent on keeping the upbeat vibes the sport exudes. I’m hoping it never comes down to suggesting that our drivers need to develop “street cred” in order to draw new fans. If it ever does come to that, that’s the day I stop watching.

George Phillips

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32 Responses to “This Is Why I Follow IndyCar Racing”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    The primary reason that I stopped watching stick and ball sports and now only watch/follow motorsports.

  2. Jim Gray Says:

    I think when you routinely put your life in danger you don’t feel the same need to justify your sport or “cool” factor by being a thug.

  3. Sadly its a cultural thing. America has become a land of many cultures. And all seem to be in decline. We are not yet to the point where a referee kills a player and the family kills the referee on the field, cuts off his head, and posts it at midfield on a stake. But we are on that road.

    Indycar is not separate from the culture. As the rot continues, it coudl happen. All we can do as fans is support the good and decent athletes of any sport when we have the opportunity. One only has to look at the abuse Jeff Gordon or Tim Tebow have taken for they way they live their lives in the press, and by individual fans. to know that these kinds of athletes need our support, and the culture is against them.

  4. Steve Jarzombek Says:

    I agree completely with Bent Wickerbill. I can’t tell you who won the most recent World Series, Super Bowl, or NBA Championship simply because I am sick and tired of the thuggery and refuse to watch those sports now.

  5. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    Out of interest, why does anyone care what some people on Track Forum think?

    • Boom! Right there. That’s why I limit my perusal of TF to about 30 minutes, renewable on a yearly basis.

    • billytheskink Says:

      In fairness to Trackforum, it is one of the (if not the) largest and most active Indycar sites on the internet. That makes it a good place to see what topics Indycar’s diehard fans are talking about.

      Of course, as with pretty much all sizable online communities, many discussions quickly turn into a cesspool.

  6. Open Wheel Racing is a sport that requires a certain level of economic status to get involved in. Ride buyer, or not, you don’t see poor folks driving race cars. Go to your local dirt track, and the story is much the same. Guys work 2 jobs, and wrench the cars themselves to be able to get out on the track. There are no “free” rides.

    Stick and ball sports draw from all economic classes. Thugs from the ghetto without a dime to their name are even actively recruited into the system, and ushered through high school and college sports without a concern for their behavior, so long as they produce on the field. It’s no big surprise when the behavior continues into the professional ranks.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Agreed, and that (Jr High and High School) is where the thuggery begins, is nurtured and perpetuated until these miscreants are then delivered to university and the pros, where the thugs are coddled and baby sat through as many years of higher education they can manage to be tutored through, while head coaches spend more and more of their time trying to get them released from jail before Saturday/Sundays next game. In many cases we are not simply looking at simple DWI or substance abuse, we are talking about assault, attaempted murder wife/girlfriend battering, the list goes on…. Add to all of that the fact that these wannabe gangstas are being paid millions of dollars, constantly talking trash and constantly whining about being disrespected by the coach the owners the team other players etc. etc. etc…

  7. billytheskink Says:

    While racing seems to have a much lower percentage of poor citizens than other sports, it is not immune to unscrupulous and even thuggish characters. Whether it’s the guy at the local short track who sells drugs to fund his kid’s racing efforts (this does happen) or Andrea Sassetti, racing has had more than enough bad apples over the years.

    We should be, and hopefully are, thankful for our Justin Wilsons and Ryan Hunter-Reays just as many stick-and-ball fans are thankful for the likes of Robert Griffin III, Chauncey Billups, Albert Pujols, and the numerous other good citizens that populate their sports. There are plenty of good role models out there for those that take the time to look.

  8. I have been following IndyCar for a while now and have been using the internet just as long. I have never heard of trackforum. My opinion of forums in general are very low.

    Why did George not bring up all the media slurping of Ray Lewis who obstructed justice (if not more) in a still unsolved murder case. Lewis is the definition of a thug. Amusing he hasn’t started his new ESPN gig since the Hernandez story broke.

  9. Tom G. completely nailed it. Also, I think you let a few thugs taint the entire group. The vast vast majority are non-thugs.

  10. “I’m hoping it never comes down to suggesting that our drivers need to develop ‘street cred’ in order to draw new fans. If it ever does come to that, that’s the day I stop watching.”

    The entire concept of that passage specifically – and this entire post generally – represents an antiquated, myopic view of society and it reflects poorly on IndyCar. And it makes me sad – simply because it makes us look like rubes. Outdated rubes, really, who rely more on our basest instincts rather than layered & complicated analyses of socioeconomics and math and very simple demographics.

    Let’s just be honest here. We all know that the term “thug” – in dog-whistle speak – means “black.” It always has. Same with “street cred.” (After all, ain’t much “street cred” to be had in rural white America.) And that you casually give NHL players a free pass – without any statistics of their “well-behaved” tendencies – well that seems about right. (Not too many “thugs” – *wink wink* eh? – in the NHL either.)

    To put it in crazy-simple terms, the NFL has more “thugs” than IndyCar because nobody from 10th & Tibbs in downtown Indy is trying to climb their way up the Pro Mazda Championship ladder. They’re trying to climb their way up to the NFL while dealing with the grim reality of their circumstances. Their “street cred,” as you put it. And to my point here, the NFL is not trying to lure new fans with their “street cred,” and to insinuate as such is so woefully, pitifully misguided that it literally hurts my spinal column.

    (Oh, and the NFL arrest rate is about 1/4th of the national average of males aged 22-34:

    http://deadspin.com/5966969/you-can-blow-smoke-about-footballs-crime-problem-but-nfl-players-are-relatively-law+abiding-by-a-wide-margin

    Peace.)

    • billytheskink Says:

      In the NHL, I’m pretty sure “thugs” are called “goons”…

    • You can always count on at least one bleeding heart in the woodpile to get in the way of common sense.

    • Indygrrrl Says:

      Give me Peyton/Eli Manning over players like Aaron Hernandez any day.

    • Roy, not so quick with the racist card. To claim that “thug” and “street cred” are terms that represent a “myopic view” in a racist manner is the biggest load of crap I have seen all day. Can we say a load of psuedo intellectual bull? Roy, let me explain the term, “Street Cred,” for you:

      Street Cred is “Commanding a level of respect in an urban environment due to experience in or knowledge of issues affecting those environments.”

      In no part of that definition is the term “Black” or “African American” used. Nor white or Caucasian, which many I find living in urban areas (myself for many years).

      Now as for “Thug.” Always has meant black?! Well, that is so off base it is not even funny and you lose any “cred” I had for you.

      Thug: cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.

      I have seen the term used in Sherlock Holmes stories as told by Dr. John H. Watson. Always?! NOT.

      To not just infer, but to flat call George a racist based on his using the terms “thug” and “street cred” is unbelievably reckless as well as insipidly stupid.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Roy you state only that their ‘arrest’ record is 25% of the national average, which does not take into account the likey many passes they get from law enforcement simply for being a professional athlete. And as JohnMc said you are completely off base on the issue of thuggery. If you feel that this term only refers to blacks, then you clearly have not checked the police blotter in your town lately. Oh, and while we are on the subject, in case you hadn’t noticed, certain racial groups in this country do indeed account for a greater percentage of crime per capita than some other groups. Frequently perpetrated upon their own. You will find that in every country their is at least one group of folks, not necessarily of any specific race that have a penchant for thuggery. For a brilliant written example of this from the UK, please pick up a copy of, Life At The Bottom… (Dalrymple)

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Those of us who may remember former Hobbson posts from back in the day will recall how they frequently featured layered and complicated analyses of socioeconomics and math and very simple demographics.

      Perhaps Mr. Hobbson is just having a little fun with this on a slow news day when only a handful of non-racing athletes have been arrested.

    • interesting and important and well-stated points, Roy.

    • Roy, I think you’re way off the mark and have missed the point entirely. My take on it was that this isn’t about race or minorities not getting a chance in the Road to Indy. This is about society, black or white, glorifying the use of guns, violent crimes against women and criminal activity in general to spit in the face of authority.

      To paint the broad brush that this is a “black” thing, is an antiquated, myopic and racist point of view on YOUR part. It’s sad if you see everything in this light.

      Keep up the good work, George. Don’t let the woefully, pitifully misguided souls get to you.

    • C’mon, Roy. Calling George a racist for this post is a bit of a stretch. Stick & Ball thugs come in all colors, and denominations these days. Race has little to do with it.

      Besides, we all know that George only discriminates against the Japanese. As for his failure to mention NHL thuggery, his hatred of hockey players is just assumed based on his distaste for Canadians.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Just because I think it is interesting. The 2010 Census demographics for the US census tracts that contains the intersection of 10th and Tibbs:

      White – 46.7%
      Black – 29.9%
      Latino – 19.5%
      Asian – 0.4%
      Other – 3.5%

      Another interesting statistic, though, is the median household incomes of these census tracts. They range from $17,000 to $26,000, or roughly half of the $47,697 median household income for the state of Indiana as a whole.

    • I agree with Roy 100%, I just didn’t say it because I knew people would flip out on me if I did.

    • The most important thing that you said, and what is killing motorsports…. “…nobody from 10th and Tibbs in downtown Indy is trying to climb their way up the Pro Mazda Championship ladder.” MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, all have stories about guys that came from dirt nothing and used their TALENT to reach that level. Indycar….. no. It takes talent, but just ask guys like Graham Rahal what it really takes to run an Indycar or any other race car for that matter. Racing is racing and shouldn’t be considered in the same category as “stick and ball” sports.

  11. The Lapper Says:

    Good for George that he didn’t use the term ‘getting their knuckles rapped’ for punishing thugs. Hobson very well may have claimed something about “dissing” rappers and place George squarley in a hate group.

  12. Whoa whoa whoa, slow down now, everyone. This is nuts! Nobody called anyone a racist. I’m friends with George. I know he’s not a racist, and that’s not my point here AT ALL. I apologize if it came across that way.

    I am always looking at IndyCar from an outsider’s perspective. I always want to know how the rest of the sporting world views us. And often I get defensive. And in this case, I just feel that it doesn’t reflect well on us — a sports league with zero black people — to toot our own virtuous horn by directly contrasting it with spotty, anecdotal evidence of “thuggery” from sports leagues that are overwhelmingly black.

    “Look at THEM. A very small percentage of them are murdering people and committing crimes. OUR athletes would never do that! They are not thugs. They aren’t acting based on their street cred. And if they ever DID, well I’d stop watching.”

    Whatever your stance on those words, and no matter George’s intention, THAT is the essence of this post.

    Everything I ever wrote for IndyCar, I wrote with the explicit intention of luring new fans to our sport. I don’t know why I did this, but whatever. I’m not saying I did it well or successfully, but that was — and continues to be — my mindset. I’m hyper-aware of our image, for good or ill.

    This post, on the whole, is not good for our image. That’s my point.

    Again, I’m sorry for not making that more clear in the original comment. (I DO NOT WRITE GOOD OR COHERENT OR GOOD MOST OF THE TIME!!) I am NOT calling George a racist.

    Okay, goodnight everyone!

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