How Do You Teach A Neophyte?
The Indianapolis 500, if nothing else, is a family affair. I grew up going to the race in the sixties with my whole family – my mother and father along with my two older brothers. After a few years, my mother finally decided that it wasn’t for her but the rest of us went every year – until my father inexplicably announced before the 1973 race that we would no longer be going. That began my twenty-year hiatus from the race, until I returned as an immature adult in 1992.
My son, who was born in 1989, had no choice but to be a fan in his early life. By the time the 1993 race rolled around, he could identify about two-thirds of the starting field by identifying the car or the driver or both. He attended a few races as an adolescent, but by that time – IndyCar racing was about the last thing on his mind. The last race he attended was in 2005 and I don’t think he cares if he ever goes back. But if he did, he still understands the sport and knows who most of the drivers are – so it wouldn’t be too hard to get him back up to speed.
Lately, it seems as if my group on Race Day has had at least one Indianapolis 500 neophyte each year. This year, that distinction belongs to my oldest brother’s son-in-law. He has never been to the race and as best I can tell, there is a distinct possibility that he has never seen it on television.
Yesterday, my brother sent me an e-mail asking about my experience in taking neophytes to the race. He wanted to know how much history to tell them. I pondered the question and basically said to loan him the program from last year’s race. It was a good one and is chocked full of information. I told him to have him read it over the next couple of nights and then he could hit him with questions in the car on the way up.
After I told him that, I wondered if I had given him bad advice. I tried to place myself in the newbie’s shoes (he’s married to my niece, does that make him a nephew-in-law?), but I couldn’t. He is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in his late twenties. I was six. He is going to his first in 2012, I went in 1965. There is absolutely no way to compare the two.
I’ve been successful in converting new fans to the IZOD IndyCar Series over the years, but they were impressionable young teenagers who would basically believe whatever I told them. A college graduate who has been in the family for close to four years now and already knows what a shallow superficial person I really am, is likely to be just a little more skeptical. The more I think about this task, the more insurmountable it seems.
I finally decided to tell my brother to just fill him in on the sacred traditions like the milk, the bricks and Back Home Again In Indiana, while filling him in on the current cars and drivers. Other than the unique traditions, I told him that most neophytes couldn’t care less about the history until they’ve learned all about the present. I also said to not play him any podcasts of Donald Davidson. It would be too intimidating.
Then it finally dawned on me that I’ve got the best resource for answers that anyone could ask for – the people that read this site regularly. So I’ll pose it to you and open it up for discussion: If you were in a car headed to the Indianapolis 500 and you were carrying a neophyte – someone who had never even seen the race – what would be the best way to explain everything that we’ve come to love over the years, in a matter of hours?
And don’t think in terms of just getting the guy to shut up and endure the weekend so that you can enjoy it – think how you would do it if you wanted this to be an unbelievable experience, for someone that you wanted to be hooked for life. What was the one thing that got you after your first trip to IMS that made you keep coming back year after year, decade after decade – and then make you want to pass it along to the next generation in your family so that the Indianapolis 500 would continue to be a family affair?