Does An IndyCar Championship Matter?
If you are coming here expecting an article about Nashville’s own, Josef Newgarden, reportedly going to Team Penske – I’m holding off until it is confirmed. Yesterday, Robin Miller reported that Penske is where Newgarden is headed. Supposedly, Newgarden is under contract until September 28th. Until his deal is done, I’ll stay quiet. When and if it’s confirmed that Penske is in fact his destination, I saw enough pontificating on social media yesterday to give me plenty to talk about. Until then, I’ve got other opinions to talk about.
Unless someone really angers me, I try to not embarrass those who go to the trouble to comment on this site. I’m always flattered that any reader would go to the trouble to comment on what I write about here. With that being the case, why would I try to embarrass the people that support this site and discourage them from ever posting again?
Having said that, I’m going to go back to a comment made on Friday, by a very loyal and longtime reader of this site who goes by the screen-name of “redcar”. He brought up an interesting point that I ultimately disagreed with, but not after giving it some thought. So even though I disagree with “redcar”, I’m not trying to single him out or embarrass him. I just want to present my reasons why I disagreed and open it up for discussion.
I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said there can’t be too many championships in sports that mean as little to the general public as the IndyCar championship. He compared it to the greater significance of the NASCAR championship, even though he acknowledged that theirs is somewhat artificial. He went on to say that the IndyCar championship suffers from the tree falling down in the forest syndrome – no one is there to hear it. Ouch!
Some of what he said is dead-on accurate. The general public is barely aware that IndyCar even exists, much less that they decided their championship this past weekend. But we all know that brand recognition is part of the main problem and it is up to the series, the sponsors and even the fans to help spread the word. But currently, not many people heard (or cared) that the tree fell in the forest on Sunday.
But here is where I’ll disagree that the championship doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal to those involved – the teams, drivers, manufacturers, sponsors and most importantly; the fans. Does an IndyCar championship carry as much weight as an Indianapolis 500 win? Hardly. In fact, it doesn’t even come close. But to say it doesn’t matter is simply untrue.
Quick! Without looking it up, who won the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship? Think real hard. Some of you living in central Indiana might automatically know the answer, since you are in the heart of basketball country, but I’m wondering how many actually remembered that it was Villanova that won the Final Four just less than six months ago. And that was after a thrilling last-second shot that eliminated North Carolina.
How many outside of the states of Missouri or Kansas remember that the Kansas City Royals took last year’s World Series crown? Closer to home, does every person reading this recall who won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship last year? If you said Kyle Busch, you would be right and better than the small sampling of sports fans that I polled over the last couple of days. In my very unscientific research of asking those three championship questions to average sport fans – no one got all three answer correct. In fact, most got only one correct and a few got none correct.
But to those who won their respective championships and their fans – it was the moment of a lifetime. When Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made the unbelievable shot to defeat North Carolina at the buzzer, he created a memory that will last him a lifetime. He should never have to buy a drink again in suburban Philadelphia. But to causal basketball fans, it was ancient history just two weeks later and completely forgotten by September.
Most know that I am a lifelong football fan of the Tennessee Volunteers. I went to school there all four years (and then some) and got my diploma from there; but I was a fan of the football team since I can remember. When I started there in the fall of 1976, it was the beginning of one of the worst five year periods in school history with a record of 27-28. As luck would have it, the Vols started winning after I graduated. They topped off the long turnaround by winning the National Championship in 1998, going 13-0 and defeating Florida State by a score of 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Most of you reading this probably don’t even remember it, but it was a night I’ll never forget. Following that game, I sat on my couch late that night just thinking of all those games I sat through in the miserable cold and rain, convinced that my Vols had a comeback in them each week when reality said they didn’t. I felt like I could die now and be happy that I lived to see the Vols finally win a National Championship. If it mattered to me as a fan, imagine what it felt like to the players and coaches.
That was what I saw this past Sunday. While we fans bemoaned the fact that the race was boring and we were not entertained, Simon Pagenaud and his family were seeing a lifelong dream fulfilled. Sure Roger Penske, John Menard, HP and Chevy were all happy; but Pagenaud was ecstatic in seeing the culmination of all the years of hard work finally paying off.
So to say that a championship doesn’t matter is painting with a very broad stroke. Perhaps the IndyCar championship doesn’t mean as much to pop-culture America as winning a season on Dancing with the Stars, but to the participants and the fans of the Verizon IndyCar Series; it means everything in the world – except for winning the Indianapolis 500.