Why We Fans Go To Races

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For those of you who chastised me on Monday for saying Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix from Barber Motorsports Park was a boring race, I will almost completely retract the statement…almost. Susan and I watched the full replay on Monday night. There was a lot more passing at other parts of the track than I realized. I was aware that Montoya had moved up quickly because I kept watching every time he went by and noticed when he was picking up spots. What I was not aware of, was that Marco Andretti was almost as impressive with his run.

If you’ve ever been to a race in person, you know it is sometimes tough to keep up with everything going on. You normally have to go back and watch the television replay to get the whole story. You can probably double that statement when you are talking about viewing a race at a natural-terrain road course. With hills, trees and turns – visibility is pretty much limited to what is immediately in front of you. The PA system plays the IMS Radio Network broadcast, but in all actuality – you can’t hear much of it, if at all, over the sound of the engines. There was a jumbotron there, but it was not in plain view from where we were sitting overlooking Turn Two.

Sitting in Turn Two, we can see Turn One and Pit-Out, all of Turns Two and Three, before the cars disappear behind the trees while they are in Turn Four. We get another short glimpse as they’re on the straightaway heading down to Turn Five, but we lose them before they get there. Sitting there gives you a perfect view for restarts. However, there were no restarts on Sunday.

Some might question why anyone would go to Barber or any race in person, when you can see and hear so much more from the comfort of your den, living room or favorite sports bar. Well, if you have to ask that question – chances are you’ve never been to a race in person.

There is nothing like it. The sounds and smells before and during a race are intoxicating. To a race fan, there is nothing more exciting than walking through the paddock before a race and hearing a team fire up the engine of a car. Fans are immediately drawn to it. The next time you witness this, watch the faces of everyone standing around. No one says a word (if they did, they wouldn’t be heard). Instead, they just have a look on their face like they are just taking it all in. The sound of that engine revving so loudly, coupled with the aroma of ethanol wafting through the air acts like a tranquilizer. Also take note that no one leaves. They continue to stand and listen in amazement until a crew member reaches over and shuts the engine off.

And to hear the cars on track and screeching out of the pits; well – it just doesn’t get any better than that.

So, you will notice that nowhere in my post did I mention that I was miserable on Sunday, or that I would rather be somewhere else. I was content to just sit and watch cars go by. But for compelling racing action that I could see from the hillside – I’ve seen better there in person. Last year, I knew we were watching an exciting race. Whether it was because all of the action took place out of site this year, or the wind may have blown the wrong way for us to hear the PA system – for whatever reason, I felt detached from any action at the track this year.

And of course, we always leave our perch on the hillside with ten to fifteen laps to go in order to get over to victory lane. That was about the time things started getting good.

So yes, I’ll admit that it presented much better this year on television than it did from Turn Two. But I hope I gave no one the impression that I had a bad time. Far from it. I’ve been to a lot of races over the years and I’ve never regretted having gone. If I’m at a race track, I’m happy.

So I’ll close the chapter on Barber and look ahead to one of the most anticipated month of Mays in a long time. But before I do that I’ll include some random photos from our weekend. Thanks to those who followed along all weekend.

George Phillips

*Please Note: At my advanced age, it takes me longer to recover from race weekends than it used to. With three trips to Indianapolis in three weeks next month, I need all the rest I can get. I plan on posting every weekday in May as I usually do, so this will be my last opportunity to take a short break. Therefore, there will be no post here on Friday April 29th. I will return here to kick off the month of May next Monday, May 2nd.  – GP

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5 Responses to “Why We Fans Go To Races”

  1. Brian McKay in Florida Says:

    I’m sure that I told you last year that you ought to take an FM radio or a scanner, plus earphones or headphones.
    Even if you don’t sit on the ridge that overlooks Turn 5 and much, much more or see a big video monitor, you can listen to a local FM station broadcasting the IMS Radio show, or, with a scanner (owned, borrowed, or rented) listen to IMS Radio or NBC Sports Network and stay informed the whole time, even while walking from your viewing slope to Victory Lane.
    If BMP continued to place a jumbotron at Turn 3, you’d ‘have it made’ (seeing cars on track and video plus hearing commentary piped into your ears.
    At races I’ve listened to TV audio feeds and enjoyed hearing insightful comments and jests ‘behind the scenes’ during the TV commercial breaks. You could hear former racers in the booth ‘dishing dirt’ in continuous audio feed even if they’re not televised during ad breaks.

  2. This perfectly illustrates the differences in consumer preferences. I only pay to see the whole track the whole time, hence my buying decisions differ from yours. MURICA. I did chortle at the level of umbrage your declaration of boredom brought out, though. BLASPHEMY.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    I could not agree more with what George has written here today. There is nothing quite like being at the track and in the paddock. I go to Road America knowing full well that I will not be able to see all the action as I could at Milwaukee. I don’t care. As a kid at Indy my viewing platform was literally a platform on top of my uncle’s station wagon next to the infield fence at the exit of turn two. We only had a radio to keep up with as the race unfolded, but many of us had stop watches to help us determine if our favorite was gaining or losing ground. During the boring stretches our entertainment consisted of betting on when Grandpa would pass out on the golf course.

    I do not know all the reasons why Graham Rahal is driving like a man possessed these days. He is seemingly just willing his underpowered car to the front much like that Foyt guy used to do. Sheer grit. As I write this I am having a steak and shake for breakfast. Seriously.

    Thanks for the photos George. Simon’s car shows evidence of a bit of off-roading. Apparently sand on a hot tire adds grip.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The difference between the televised race experience and the live race experience is staggering, but hard to put into words. The experience is amazingly better in person, but there is a great point to be made, as you did George, about the difficulty of following the story of a race at the track. In many cases you will see things in person that television never picks up on, especially on tracks where the whole course is visible, but you often miss the strategies and small incidents that television is able to highlight. I would still argue that the positives of a live race experience more than make up for these issues. Maybe I’m just addicted to ear plugs.

    Speaking of attending races… I opened my mailbox yesterday evening to find a blue envelope waiting for me. Yes, I’m excited.

  5. A day watching an IndyCar race at any track beats damn near anything. I like being around practice and qualifying, too. I also find a lot of interesting things going on in the garage area. I have always liked being at a racetrack.

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