What Do Others Think Of Racing Fans?

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We don’t actually have a water-cooler in my office, but we do have a break-room – which I guess fulfills the purpose of “water-cooler conversations”. As big of a fan of IndyCar as I am, there aren’t many people in the south, outside of my co-worker in another location, John McLallen, that I can have in-depth conversations about what is going on in the world of IndyCar. I have a co-worker in my office (Randy) that is a NASCAR fan, but he has at least started following IndyCar more and more since I arrived there a few years ago.

Consequently, my break-room conversations are limited to my other two passions; college and pro-football. I can hold my own on both of those subjects with the biggest of football junkies out there. But college football is over now, as the playoffs are now in full swing. Here locally, we have the Titan’s coaching search going on, which is always good for some break-room fodder.

Earlier this week, as Randy and I were dissecting Auburn’s loss to Florida State, another co-worker walked in. He cared nothing for the football conversation and immediately started talking about a sport I care nothing about – golf. He started pontificating about some new shafts he had gotten and some narrow-faced clubs he couldn’t wait to try. Randy knows enough about golf to hold his own in such a conversation. I, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about a golfing conversation. I glazed over for a while until I finally just left the room.

I play golf occasionally. OK, I haven’t played since 2003. That was my first time to play since 1988, when my daughter was born. When my daughter was about two-months old my friends got up a Saturday golf game, which included many adult beverages. After many hours on the course and more in the clubhouse, I showed up at home to find my then-wife holding a screaming child, whose screaming was only exceeded by that of my then-wife. She informed me that I had just played my last round of golf. She wasn’t entirely right, but it was my last game until we mercifully divorced in 1996.

My point is…I always enjoyed getting out with friends and playing a round of golf. I never took it seriously at all. I was not very good and I knew it. On top of that, I never had any real desire to be good. It was just fun to be outside, riding in a cart (always) and throwing back a few beers while occasionally swinging at a white ball. I always avoided playing with those guys that treated every round like Sunday at Augusta National.

You know the type – they were the ones that got mad at every other shot and tried to wrap their clubs around a tree. You couldn’t even talk to them because they were sitting there fuming and about to blow a gasket. What made it even worse was when I would hit the occasional lucky shot after about the fourth beer that ended up in much better shape than their heavily calculated shot. Whether or not they ever righted their game by the end of the round, they had cast a pall over what would have been a great day of sun, male-bonding and beer.

Those days of my misspent early adulthood laid the groundwork for my dislike of golfing conversations. I hate them. I’d rather talk about comparing life insurance policies than golf. Therefore, I have developed a disdain for golfers. Not that they aren’t good people in other facets of their life, but when they get together with another golfer – they take on this other persona which comes across as incredibly arrogant and condescending.

After this break-room encounter the other day, I got to wondering if that’s how people perceive racing fans. We are a fairly provincial group. Many race fans are not “stick & ball” people and racing is the only sport they follow. Given my love of football and the fact that I follow baseball and college basketball, I’m also a stick & ball guy so I’m not in that category.

Still, most people don’t understand racing fans. Whether your racing preference is IndyCar, Formula One, USAC or even NASCAR – those that are not racing fans look at us like we have two heads when we mention the sport we love.

I have friends and co-workers that know I closely follow something to do with racing. They assume it’s NASCAR. When I take off work to go to Barber Motorsports Park every April, the assumption is that I’m going to Talladega. When I explain that it is instead a road race with IndyCars that I’ll be attending, I get the perplexed look like a dog that just heard a high-pitched sound.

When I plan to take off work around three weekends in May, nobody gets it. When I explain what all is going on this May, I get the same glazed-over look that I had when the golf talk started this week. If they say anything at all, it’s the tired old “Why would anyone go to that trouble to watch cars go in a circle?” Seriously? Is that really what non-racing fans think of our sport?

I could trivialize anyone’s favorite sport or hobby with degrading comments like that. Baseball is nothing but grown men hitting, throwing and catching a ball. Football is a bunch of oversized kids hitting each other. Basketball is a hairy armpit fest of try to put a ball through a hoop. Hockey is basketball on ice. Not a sports fan? The same ridiculous comments could be made about music, aviation or stamp-collecting.

It’s hard for anyone who is a fan of a sport to understand how someone would not share your enthusiasm. What is there about IndyCar not to like? How could anyone not become intoxicated with the smell of ethanol and smoking tires? Why would someone not become mesmerized by the speed, danger and talent involved?

The thing is, most people just don’t get it. They look at us as oddballs. They look down on us and think that our entertainment threshold is low because we actually enjoy watching cars go in a circle. Baseball fans get annoyed when others label their sport as boring. They say non-baseball fans just don’t understand the nuances of the game. Yet, many a baseball fan will make the same disparaging remark saying that racing is boring. Could we not throw the same logic back in their face?

It’s tough being an IndyCar fan these days. Our numbers are currently shrinking instead of growing. We deal with dwindling TV ratings, the things we hold sacred are currently changing and the leadership of the sport seems to be constantly in a state of flux. We also have to deal with odd looks from people in our everyday lives who like to scoff at what we cherish.

So my question is do our friends and co-workers who are not racing fans think we are a bunch of kooks and crackpots? Do we care? Do we see this as an opportunity to recruit new fans to our sport or do we suffer in silence as closeted race fans, afraid that someone might think us as odd or eccentric?

You may have a different answer, but I approach it as an opportunity. I’ll engage in a conversation asking if they have ever seen an IndyCar race. Almost always, the answer is that the only racing they have ever watched was NASCAR and they found it boring. If it is during the season, I’ll let them know when the next race is and then remind them two or three times to watch it. During the Month of May, the Indianapolis 500 is all I can talk about at work. I try to get everyone to commit to watching all or at least part of the upcoming race. Few actually watch, but at least I have engaged them in talking about it.

I’ve also come across co-workers that attended the Indianapolis 500 many years ago, but haven’t watched it in a while. They are the easiest to talk with. They at least get it, to some extent. I have yet to come across anyone who has been to the Indianapolis 500 once in their lives and said they hated it. They may not be as enthused about it as I am, but they speak of it in awe.

So regardless of what your family, friends and co-workers think about your passion for IndyCar racing – be proud of it and embrace it. Stand up, be arrogant and bore them like the golfers bore me. Don’t cower the next time someone makes a degrading remark about racing. Take over the conversation and make them give you that glazed-over look. If they don’t leave, then maybe you just found a new fan.

George Phillips

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22 Responses to “What Do Others Think Of Racing Fans?”

  1. Jack Phillips Says:

    “I have yet to come across anyone who has been to the Indianapolis 500 once in their lives and said they hated it…” You’ve obviously never talked to my daughter about the Indy 500. Granted, it was 2006 and the temperature was in the high 90’s, but what a race to attend hiding from the sun under the grandstand. It was a low point in her life.

    • “A low point in her life?” Really? Is she allergic to the sun? Do you hide her in the basement? What’s the problem here?

  2. Unfortunately auto racing has the reputation of being “rednecky”. I have one coworker here who loves Indy Car. Perhaps not surprisingly he grew up in Indianapolis. Really only a couple more Nascar fans that I’m aware of.

    You have another issue in that those few who are into Formula One arrogantly look down at any form of American racing. Perhaps they think European racing is more “civilized”. That is why Indy car trying to mimic Formula One will never work. It will never win over many of those fans.

    Golf has become the corporate activity. I get so sick of hearing about others golf games. The pro game you hear much less about. I actually like golf if limited to 9 holes, but once or twice a year is plenty for me.

    My kids began to take an interest in auto racing, but taking them to the races was a mistake. The behavior and rudeness we encountered from a number of fans did not sell them on auto racing. Both Indycar and Nascar events. Sure did not help racings reputation.

    • I’ll argue that the bad fan experience your kids experienced could happen anywhere. Any stick and ball sport has its share if obnoxious idiots. Just add alcohol. Really, all you have to do is get up and move to another seat as there are plenty available these days. The so called “arrogance” in formula1 is Formula 1-it’s always been that way- it’s European- what did you expect? I think it’s stupid fans have to fall into a category-it shouldn’t be that way. Bottom line is if a person can’t be captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of racing then move on to another sport. Don’t torture yourself.

  3. Personally I don’t really give a crap what other people think of racing fans. I know what I like and there are plenty of others that appreciate it as well. if others can’t appreciate the sensory experience and challenge that is racing in any form, than they are either comatose or you don’t want to understand it. I think a lot of people don’t understand Motor sports so they dismiss it like Bob F. above.

    • How did I dismiss it?

      • Why was it a mistake to bring your kids to a race I don’t understand? Because they encountered rude fans? Why didn’t you/they pick up and move? What is the reputation of racing?

        • Read the title of Oilpressure’s article. And read my first line. Didn’t say it was my opinion.

          We did move as we had no choice. All three tracks. I wrote about this in an earlier comment Oilpressure did on the fans. But it sure did not give them a positive view of race fans. I’ve been attending races since 1978 and the crowds have gotten worse the last few years. It used to be crazy but friendly at times. Wasn’t so friendly this year. Just my experience. I made two of the track’s managment awere of it.

  4. “They don’t want to understand it” sorry bad proofread.

  5. The conversation is usually something like this. Me: racing. Them: Oh, NASCAR. Me: IndyCar. Them: IndyCar? Me: Like the Indy 500? Them: The Indy 500 is coming up? Me: No, at Iowa Speedway (or wherever). Them: IndyCar races outside Indy 500? Me: Yeah, 15 or so other places. Them: I’ve heard of Danica Patrick. Me: She’s in NASCAR. Them: Are you a fan? (15 minute discussion about Danica).

  6. I’m just going to say one more thing: I ‘m sensing a trend here. The first two responses to this post are negative and involve subjects of the younger generation. If what these guys say is true than racing truly is in trouble. I know I’m showing my age but I personally think the millennial generation needs to “grow a set”, put down their smart phones take off their skirts and get in touch with what is real. Racing is real. Nothing could be more real than watching professionals drive a constantly changing , almost out of control car in a very hostile 200° environment, sustaining almost constant g forces and in some cases being pushed to the limit mentally and cardio wise- overcoming muscle fatigue and dehydration because of such extreme conditions at the same time having the a blast! The car too is at it’s very edge at high speeds. Man these kids are turning into such whimps. God help us.

  7. I am always telling folks about my love for the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. I might sound boastful about it, too, but that is how I roll. I have been known to change the channel from baseball to a NASCAR race at parties when there is nobody else watching the game.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Most avid fans of a sport outside of the mainstream, whether racing or lacrosse or modern pentathlon, are seen as odd by others. I really don’t worry about this too much, but it is frustrating when some folks will go out of their way to disparage racing if they know you are a fan.
    I have a couple friends who do this to try and get a rise out of me, I think they just like it when I call them “race-ists”.

    Not everyone is going to like racing, but I think the best way for those unfamiliar with the sport to find out if they do is experience it live. Few, if any, sports can offer such a drastically different experience live vs. television as auto racing. If they don’t like it live, and some people just won’t, they won’t like it at all.

  9. John McClain Says:

    I might sound boastful about it, too, but that is how I roll. I have been known to change the channel from baseball to a NASCAR race at parties when there is nobody else watching the game!!!

  10. I have never thought about George’s question and don’t intend to start. I think it is largely a waste of time to try and “convert” a fan from one sport to another. If it is possible at all, I think it can best be done by giving someone the opportunity to experience a live event. As Billy said above, it they don’t like it live, they won’ like it at all. IMHO all the things done to enhance a televised race have little or no effect on drawing new fans.

    Unfortunately there are huge areas of this country where there are no opportunities to take someone to a race.

  11. I agree with you in that I really don’t care what others think. This is my passion. However, it does get very old when dismissed by fans of other types of racing. I just wish more of my colleagues at work were interested in sports in general. I am the odd duck.

    I take the time to educate, such as explaining open wheel racing vs. stock cars. As I have written in past posts I am a true advocate for IndyCar and have brought novice and usually younger people to races in the last year or so. I would like to say I have repeat attendees; still working on that aspect. I am almost ready to send out a “save the date” message concerning the upcoming Long Beach GP.

    Finally getting off the couch and attending the races made my life so much fuller.

  12. Most non-racing fans can’t wrap their mind around the idea of more than two competitors in action at the same time. I think that throws them a curve they can’t handle.
    Those whose excuse is that they “can’t pronounce the drivers’ names” are incredibly dumb. IndyCar in particular hasn’t seen many drivers lately whose names aren’t friendly to Anglo tongues. Besides, how many unusual names appear in baseball or basketball?

    ABC having a good commentator will help increase viewership. I can imagine over a million potential IndyCar fans changing the channel during the Indy 500 listening to Mousy Marty; they can watch grass grow on channel 319. Allen Bestwick will do much better.

  13. Golf is the purest and most competitive game in the world. Unlike motor racing.

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