The Quest For New Indianapolis 500 Fans
One thing I’ve always had a strong conviction for was trying to introduce the Verizon IndyCar Series and specifically, the Indianapolis 500 to young fans. In the past ten years, Susan and I have taken her son Eric, and several of his friends to IMS for qualifying and the race. Eric became a lifelong fan after he attended his first race in 2004. Although he didn’t win that day, Eric took a liking to Tony Kanaan and the 7-Eleven car. Soon after that, Susan’s home was decorated with Andretti-Green and Tony Kanaan memorabilia.
Over the years, many of Eric’s friends joined us since my own son really showed no interest in attending the race anymore. Some of Eric’s friends became fans, while others didn’t. You could tell pretty quickly who was being bitten by the bug and who was looking forward to getting back home. But I always felt it was my duty to try and introduce this sport to as many young people as I could. They are going to be the ones counted on to carry this sport in just a few more years.
Taking all of that into account – one of my two brothers is not going to be able to make it to this year’s Indianapolis 500. I thought I had his four tickets sold back in March, but the buyer backed out last week. In a panic, I immediately let it be known on Twitter that I had four extra tickets for sale. The good thing about Twitter is that you get an almost instantaneous response. As the responses came in, I could tell who was first, second and so forth.
I don’t post a whole lot with Facebook, I just look at it. If you are connected to me on Facebook, most of what you see from me actually comes from Twitter and it automatically goes to my Facebook. Most of my high school and college friends are connected to me through Facebook and have no idea what I’m talking about when most of my posts are about racing. That’s when I was surprised to see that the third person that expressed interest in the race tickets was a college buddy that I haven’t seen in almost twenty years and had spoken to only once in that time. We called him Bubba back then, but I think he may have graduated to his given name by now.
The first person that expressed interest never would give me a definite answer. After several days of waiting, I finally gave up and moved on to Number Two. When he promptly declined, I contacted Bubba. I didn’t really expect Bubba to take me up on them. I had never known him to be a race fan. I assumed when he found out the price and all that was involved, he would politely decline. I was wrong.
Bubba sent me back a single message on Facebook – Sold! He gave me his phone number so that we could make all the arrangements, since Bubba lives almost two-hundred miles away in Memphis.
As it turned out, the Indianapolis 500 has always been on Bubba’s bucket-list. Unbeknownst to me, Bubba has watched every single Indianapolis 500 since he can remember along with a handful of other IndyCar races each year. Plus – and this is the best part – Bubba has two sons, ages 10 & 11 (or somewhere around there). For the past few years, they have joined him in his Memorial Day television tradition. When he told them there was a chance he could get tickets to the Indianapolis 500, they couldn’t believe it. They kept their fingers crossed until I contacted their dad on Sunday to officially offer the tickets to them – hence his immediate response. He and his boys were ecstatic!
These are the kind of people I like to sell the tickets to. My brother wasn’t looking to make a killing. He just wanted face-value, so he could get his money back. I had no stake in this. The tickets are near my seats, but not with me – so I had nothing to gain or lose. But to hear his excitement over the phone; that he was finally going to get to go to the Indianapolis 500 with his two young boys, was priceless. I got so fired up talking to him about it, I’m afraid I may have sent him into overload.
It’s hard to contain your excitement when you hear someone so eager to attend something that you have been passionate about for so long. But I’m really glad that Bubba is getting his young sons involved. That’s what this race and this series needs to sustain itself – more young people getting interested in it. That my generation is still watching is great – for now, but what about twenty years from now. I’ll be seventy-five, if I’m still kicking. That’s not the demographic they’ll be seeking by then. Bubba’s sons will be in their early thirties by then. That’s who the series will be seeking – and needing.
IndyCar can’t wait until then to snag them. They need to start now.
My memories of growing up in the sixties and attending the Indianapolis 500 every year are so vivid to me, they have literally stayed with me for a lifetime. I was only six, when I went to my first one in 1965. Some might say that’s too young. But in my case, my father had taken my two brothers in 1964 and left me behind. I wasn’t sure what I was missing, but I knew it was something big. I was not happy.
When they returned with books, souvenirs and that all-important Indianapolis 500 program, I devoured everything – that is, as much as a five-year old could. By the time the 1965 race came along, I knew exactly what I was in for and I was ready. I was pulling for Parnelli Jones in that beautiful gold Lotus. I was not happy when he finished second to Jim Clark, but I remember the events of that day like it happened last week. As I grew older and returned each subsequent year for the race and Pole Day (except for 1966), my understanding and appreciation of the whole event grew. Then, as now, I lived for the Month of May.
There was a reason that I lost touch with many of my high school and college friends – I never cared for them that much. Bubba doesn’t fit into that category. The last time I remember seeing Bubba was around 1995. We just inadvertently lost touch with each other over time. It happens. I’ve never met his wife or his sons. But I’m looking forward to talking with Bubba over the next two and a half weeks about the race and what to expect. I also look forward to re-connecting with him at IMS on race-weekend and meeting his two sons. The future of this race and the series rests on their shoulders – and they don’t even know it.