What Do Others Think Of Racing Fans?
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.