Why I Like Ryan Briscoe
Note From George: Susan Scruggs has always done a lot of behind the scenes work with this site. I have always given her the green light to write a post whenever she feels like it. Lately, the mood has struck her, as it has today. – GP
Who is Ryan Briscoe?
That’s what I asked George when we met in our seats at Nashville Superspeedway for the 2006 Indy Car race here. He and my son, Eric, had been wandering the garage area before the race while I was working in the DownForce tent.
I have volunteered for DownForce at the Nashville race and Indy since 2004. The DownForce people had promised to have a driver come by to mingle with fans before the race. No one, including myself, had a clue who Ryan Briscoe was. No one even seemed to care. They got him up on the stage for a Q&A session and the DownForce regulars paid him no mind as they talked among themselves. He just stood there in an awkward fashion as he waited for someone to ask him a question.
I was so embarrassed for him, I finally stood up and asked “Are you married?” He blushed and shyly responded with “What did you have in mind?” Then he asked me to join him on stage, which of course I did. He put his arm around me and gave this (then) forty-plus woman a big thrill. He was very friendly and played along. After it was obvious that the rest of the crowd was more interested in their own private conversation than the guest driver, they gave up on the Q&A and he and I just talked.
Looking back, I wish I had called George back in the garages to ask him who the guy was. Instead, I blindly struck up a conversation with him. Tagging along to races with George, I’ve met my share of drivers. I’m not sure I’ve met a nicer one, before or since, than Ryan Briscoe was that day.
Maybe he was relieved that I didn’t ask him about his crash in Chicago the previous season. It wasn’t out of good manners, I just didn’t remember that he was the guy driving the Target car that split in two in a ball of fire. Had I known he was the one, I probably would have grilled him on that.
Instead, I bored him with things like how he liked Nashville, blah blah blah. But he didn’t just sit there and give canned answers or put himself on a pedestal because he was a “celebrity” driver. It was just the opposite. He looked me in the eye and made me feel like I was the only person he had spoken to all day. He asked me questions about where I was from, how long I had been an Indy Car fan and the like. Briscoe was funny and just downright charming. It helped that no one was paying him any mind, but we must have visited for more than fifteen minutes before he had to leave. I felt like I had made a new friend, he was that personable.
Imagine my surprise when I met George and Eric at our seats and George told me that Ryan Briscoe was the one in that fiery crash. He explained that he had recently replaced Buddy Lazier, who had been driving for Dreyer & Reinbold that season. I kept my eyes glued to his car all night. I couldn’t believe that was the same guy I had struck up a conversation with just a couple of hours earlier. He finished ninth, which George said was very respectable for that car that season.
Ever since that hot and sticky night in July of 2006, I’ve been a Briscoe fan. The next year, he was my choice to win in his one appearance at Indy, when he drove the good-looking yellow car for Roger Penske’s son. I was thrilled when he took over for Sam Hornish the next year. He had quickly become my favorite driver in the series.
Things didn’t go well at first. He crashed a lot at the first. Then when Danica stormed down to his pit (which was directly in front of our seats), everyone seemed to take her side. People around us were laughing at Briscoe. Driving home, we heard all the callers mocking Briscoe and guessing how long he would make it through the season before Penske fired him. I was relieved to see him win the next week at Milwaukee.
Before the 2009 season began, George kept telling me that a lot of people were picking Briscoe to win the championship. Things looked great when he won the first race. He should have won Kansas, but things didn’t work out with a late yellow. At Indy, he was leading early but a tire screw-up put him at the back. Still, he was having a good season.
Then came Texas. Yes, Briscoe dominated the race, but Helio won it. My disappointment came the next day. I’m a little different when it comes to reading blogs. I pay more attention to the reader’s comments than what the bloggers say. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It sounded like the whole fan base was ganging up on Briscoe. These weren’t Helio fans, they were Briscoe haters. There was no logic that this hatred was based on. They just said things like he was so boring, or he was a wimp.
Had these haters ever met Briscoe? If they had, they would know and understand that he was not boring at all. Even if they had never met him like I had, what had he done on television to create such hatred? He always smiled, was very pleasant and never got involved in controversy. As George always said; he was the typical Penske driver.
Granted, he did not have a good season last year and I was worried for his future next season. Fortunately, he’s back at Penske. But I was amazed to read a comment on Oilpressure, after it was announced that Izod would sponsor Briscoe’s car some next year. Someone said they were glad to know Briscoe’s car would look different, so that when Briscoe crashed he wouldn’t be worried that it was another Penske driver. He would know immediately it was Briscoe.
George likes Briscoe. He’s not his favorite driver – Helio is, and that’s fine. At least he likes him and pulls for him. It’s not just because he’s a Penske driver, because he never pulled for Hornish when he was with Penske. But where does this hatred of Briscoe come from? I don’t think I’m missing something because I think I’ve spent more time with him than 95% of his haters have. If I have, please fill me in.