The Best Pre-Season In Sports

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Did you watch the NFL Hall of fame game on TV last night? I’m embarrassed to say that I did. Well, not all of it but I watched more of the game that usually serves as the unofficial kickoff to the NFL pre-season than probably most people did. I know that doesn’t speak well for me. Most teams in the NFL play four pre-season games each year, but the two lucky teams that are tabbed to participate in the Hall of Fame game get to play a fifth pre-season game. I use the word “lucky” with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Of all professional sports, I think that the NFL pre-season is the biggest waste of time – especially to the buying public. Season ticket holders are required to buy the two pre-season game tickets along with the eight regular season games – at the same price.

Last night’s game in Canton, Ohio between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys was predictably a joke. In fact, it was a bigger joke than usual. Normally, the first couple of series of the Hall of Fame game will feature mostly starters. Prior to last night’s game, both coaches came out and said that they would rest all of their starters. Can you imagine being forced to buy a ticket to an IndyCar race as part of a package deal and have the cars that looked like the cars you saw last year, being driven by drivers from USF2000? For the record, the Cowboys won this nail-biter 20-18.

In racing, there aren’t many pre-season events. In fact, the only one I can think of is whatever they call their All-Star race based on the previous season that takes place the weekend before the Daytona 500. At one time, it was called the Bud Shoot-out, but that was probably more than a decade ago. Then there are the dual qualifying races on the Thursday before the Daytona 500 that do actually have a little significance, as they determine the Daytona 500 lineup from Row Two on back.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I like how the Verizon IndyCar Series treats the pre-season the best. There are no non-points paying exhibition races. There are a couple of tests, then usually two “spring training” test sessions – one on an oval like Phoenix and one on a road course like Barber. Spring training times are usually published so that fans can tell how their favorite teams or drivers did; but there is no side-by-side hard-nosed racing. It is usually for driver and teams to set a baseline and also to get reacquainted with each other.

Also, unlike the NFL pre-season where fans are expected to pony up the same price as “real” games; IndyCar Spring Training is either free or a minimal price. I know when IndyCar had Spring Training at Barber in March of 2009, the year before they first raced there – they charged fans $10 apiece. I considered that fair, since fans got complete paddock access and freedom to set up lawn chairs pretty much anywhere on the grounds to watch a full couple of days. We went down Sunday morning, stayed the entire day while roaming the paddock and checking out different vantage points to sit, relax and watch race cars go by. Is there a better way anywhere to spend ten bucks?

But the best thing about the IndyCar pre-season is that it’s still fresh to us when the season starts. Opening day of the NFL follows four meaningless games that many of us still watch for some strange reason. By the time the regular season starts, it’s all old hat.If your favorite NFL team goes 0-4 in the pre-season, it means nothing. There is no cause for alarm. Likewise, a team that goes 4-0 in the pre-season usually stumbles in the regular season. If the Titans win just one pre-season game, I’m usually happy. The real winner of the pre-season is one that didn’t suffer a catastrophic injury to a key player in the pre-season.

When the green flag flies at St. Petersburg every year, it’s all still brand new to us. We generally expect a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti car to win – but we’re never sure. Remember that this year, a Dale Coyne driven by Sébastien Bourdais won. Not only did pre-season testing not tip us off to that, even qualifying the day before found Bourdais in the tire barrier and starting last.

The Verizon IndyCar Series is starting to wind down now. College and NFL teams are now in training camp and the dreaded NFL pre-season has already started. With four more races to go, my attention will still be squarely on the IndyCar season while keeping an eye on what’s going on in football. When the NFL season kicks off for real, there will only be the season finale at Sonoma remaining. Then football will keep me occupied once the IndyCar season has been put to bed for another year.

But as I flip through the channels on Thursday through Monday nights in August and see the plethora of meaningless and dreadful NFL Pre-season games; it will make me all the more thankful that next spring, IndyCar will simply strap on the helmet and start racing. Other sports should take note.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “The Best Pre-Season In Sports”

  1. Gurney Eagle Says:

    We have attended spring training in Arizona on a few occasions but that is for the weather rather than any interest in the actual games. Otherwise I have no interest in any preseason including IndyCar. Wake me when it counts.

  2. I always thought the best pre-season in sports was baseball. I still think its the best. And as I was once a long time NFL season ticket holder, I feel justified in saying the NFL has the worst.

    It’s hard to call these Indy Car practices “pre-season.” I guess I think about the races before the 500 as being pre-season to the biggest race of the year. They’re not, but that’s how it feels to me. The season always feels like it “officially” begins with Qualifications in May.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    While I make it a practice to never watch Green Bay Packer pre-season games, or any other NFL pre-season games, I make an exception for what is called “Family Night”. “Family Night” will take place at La La Lambeau Field tomorrow night. Once again it is a sell-ouit. 78,000 fans will show up to watch a Packer practice. Yes, a “practice”. The practice will be on local network TV and it has a title sponsor. Tickets are heavily discounted and kids get in free. I am not sure if IndyCar can or needs to learn anything from such a promotion, but 78,000 fans will buy a lot of beer, brats, and Rodger’s shirts.

    If the IndyCar season would once again go into the fall opposite NFL football, I would probably watch the IndyCar race if the race was on at the same time as a NFL game between any teams other than the Packers. If there was a Packer game going up against a IndyCar race on network TV, I would enjoy the game and then reach for YouTube the next day.

    Sadly, all this football talk and the falling leaves means we are fast approaching the end of the 2017 IndyCar season and bloggers telling us once again how brown the Sonoma countryside looks. The finish for the championship is shaping up to be an exciting one.

    I wish all of you a happy, productive, and healthy post-Sonoma off season.

    • The Sonoma countryside IS brown. It’s a dustbowl. Just thought I’d get that out there a few weeks early. – GP

      • Chris Lukens Says:

        Many years ago, when flying into the San Jose airport, I looked out the window and commented that it looked “very dry down there.” The lady sitting next to me said “Now, you must realize, those hills are not brown, they’re GOLDEN.” We both laughed.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Golden brown. Like a good french fry

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Back in May 2016 while at INDY, I asked the person in charge of the Penske Racing souvenir trailer, if the Penske souvenir trailer would be at the Pocono Indy Car Race.

      They replied, “No.”

      Supporting the sport………………………

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Pre-season NFL is a tremendously effective racket, games with limited meaning and marginal players that get a lot of attention simply because people haven’t seen any non-Canadian football for 6 months. I actually find there to be a certain charm to preseason football, with borderline NFL players battling for 3rd string roster spots during an unpolished locally-produced television broadcast.

    Racing doesn’t really have this type of “pre-season”, per se, but there are events that draw additional interest simply because they signal the end of a long offseason. The Snowball Derby, Chili Bowl, 24 Hours of Daytona, Daytona 500/Speedweeks are all fine events on their own, but their timing gives them additional “oomph”.

    That said, I didn’t watch a minute of the Hall of Fame game last night. There was NASCAR K&N Pro Series and AMA flat track racing on NBCSN, after all…

  5. The issue for NFL pre season is that the concern about injuries cause players and teams to play at significantly less than 100%. NASCAR and the NBA pre-seasons games/races are less exciting because of the volume of regular season games/races. Soccer pre season tends to be fairly exciting although its impacted by injury fears as well.

    That said I do not think Indycar handles their off season very well. Indycar loses all of its momentum and casual fan interest and, depending on season, loses it for a very long time. Going that long without anything of note happening is not helpful.

  6. In the era where sports and entertainment entities grasp and struggle to grow while at the same time , loose fans in droves is , in a way comforting as an IndyCar fan to watch. At least it’s not just IndyCar that struggles to fill seats. As paranoid as the IndyCar series is to go up against the behemoth that is the NFL, it is witnessing an erosion and when the ridiculousness of what they call the pre -season is imposed on fans, it encourages some soul searching to question why we watch the NFL in the first place. The truth is, NFL ratings are down, way down for many reasons and events like Canton further remind us of the current challenges the NFL is facing. We were out to dinner with friends and the bar had the game on. My initial thought was: really? Already? Its still summer! It’s too early to watch pointless football or, to even care about the NFL. It is still racing season and I am going to relish every remaining minute of it. I predict another disappointing year for the NFL as a lot of people will pick up where they left off from last year and continue to question why they watch it in the first place. The NFL will continue to waffle on whether it will continue to allow political statements by its players (I hope you are reading this Ron) to ruin its strong hold. This kind of pre-season crap only helps IndyCar. Maybe IndyCar will begin to realize that they need not be so paralyzed and afraid when confronting challenging the NFL.

  7. I am always excited when training camps open up as well as when pitchers and catchers arrive. As for IndyCar, I do enjoy the preseason testing and it is always a boost for me to see some of the guys in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Obviously, when the season is over for my favorite sports I find the preseason pretty damn exciting because I am ready to go. Very much how I felt when I played on sports teams way back.

  8. S0CSeven Says:

    The NFL teams have huge player rosters along with the huge salary payouts and yet a mere 8 games to make enough money to pay for it all. Yeah, I understand pre-season games with third stringers. You gotta do what you gotta do.

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