IndyCar Fans Compared To Hockey Fans
True IndyCar fans are a loyal bunch. We are true to the current version of the sport, for better or worse – while also embracing its history and legacy. At all of the races I have attended over the years, most fans I have encountered have been more than willing to share their knowledge to explain the sport to those that don’t. I always make a point to patiently explain the nuances of this sport to those that come over to my house to watch a race with me. Fans of other sports should follow the lead of IndyCar fans.
I had a very busy sports weekend this past weekend. After watching the Japan race on Friday night, I watched the Tennessee Vols lose to Florida again on television Saturday afternoon. That night, I attended a pre-season hockey game featuring the Nashville Predators. Sunday afternoon, I went to watch the Tennessee Titans get upset by the Houston Texans. Although my football teams lost, the only real bummer of the weekend was the hockey game.
I consider myself a better than average sports fan. As most know, my three favorite sports – in no particular order – are IndyCar racing, college football and pro football. College basketball and baseball are definitely behind those two and then lump in the rest. Somewhere in that lump lies hockey.
I grew up here in the south where there was no hockey. I’m not even sure I ever saw a hockey game on TV until my senior year in high school. It was a foreign culture to us in the south. After the advent of ESPN and the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team, I watched a few games out of curiosity but it never took me by storm. I couldn’t really understand the rules and it just seemed like a sport that northerners and foreigners played.
Fast-forward almost thirty years. Not only are there several NHL teams in the south, but the Nashville Predators play in a building about four miles from my house. Adding to my confusion, my son decided to take up playing hockey for his high school. It was there that I got my first taste of hockey fans.
What does any of this have to do with racing? Hold on…I’m getting there. The parents of all the other hockey kids on my son’s team had all known each other for years. Unbeknownst to me (or my son), hockey is a sport that is taken up about the time a kid grows his first tooth. My son halfway understood the rules, but I didn’t. Imagine these parents dismay when I asked what those blue lines on the ice were for. When I genuinely asked someone to explain the term “icing”, you would have thought I had vomited on one of them the way they recoiled in horror.
I thought these parents were bad until I saw some of the parents of the other schools. They were ten times worse. If I ever tried to strike up a conversation about football with any of this group, I was quickly served notice that no one there cared for football…or any other sport for that matter. I thought this must be a high school hockey phenomenon until I went to a Nashville Predators game. These people were different. It wasn’t the way they talked or dressed or wore their hair. It was their attitude. They hold the “new” hockey fans in complete disdain. Most Predator fans in Nashville are transplants. They grew up all of their lives following hockey. The problem is, they despise anyone who hasn’t followed it forever.
The Predators are a new team that just came into existence in 1997. The die-hard fans practically alienate any casual fans that want to check out this oddity. I’ll confess that even though I still know very little about the sport, seeing an NHL game live is totally different than watching on TV. It’s actually enjoyable if you don’t have to listen to the fans.
The fans are not wild and drunk. That would be acceptable. Instead, they all have a massive chip on their shoulder about the new and uninformed fans invading their sport. It’s as if they don’t want any new fans. These hockey people treat their sport as if it’s a cult and no outsider is welcomed. They would rather sit in an empty arena with a few die-hards than a building packed with cheering fans that don’t quite know what they’re cheering for but they’re having fun. Instead, these miserable, grumbling fans sit and complain about all the newbies that don’t understand their sport.
At the races I have been to over the years, I’ve come across this type of race fan on rare occasions. There are a few bitter Champ Car fans that still grumble about on the message boards that their series was far superior. There’s also the faction that still laments the death of the roadster era and that wings don’t belong on racecars. But overall, the IndyCar fans that I come across are friendly and upbeat about their sport, despite a slew of things about the current series to legitimately complain about. Very few times have I ever heard anyone sneer at what might be perceived as a “dumb” question. I think IndyCar fans are smart enough to know that anytime we can get new fans for our sport – that is a good thing. The more chances that we can get to explain about the intricacies of our sport, the better.
I’m sure there are some hardcore hockey fans that will disagree with me. If so, please enlighten me. I’d love to find out I’m wrong and have only been exposed to a few bad apples. It frightens me to think that the IndyCar Series and the NHL are both on Versus. What exactly does it say about our sport? It says that right now, they are both niche sports. But we don’t have to treat any potential new fans like they are infected with N1H1. Almost every year, I include someone that has never been to a race in our group that goes to Indy each year. It is my goal to make sure they want to go back again. Hockey fans should take that same approach with any casual fans that show any interest in their sport, rather than scoffing at them. Otherwise, they may be looking at fewer fans than the IRL before too long.