Beware The Bitter Race Fan
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.