Why I’m Glad To Be An IndyCar Fan

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Sunday was a beautiful day in Nashville. The sky was clear and the temperature was in the sixties. That morning I went for a long walk, which is about the only exercise I get, while listening to a random podcast of Donald Davidson’s The Talk of Gasoline Alley. It put me in the mood for racing. I finished my walk just in time to tune in to FOX’s coverage of the Daytona 500. That’s where my day took a downward turn.

The coverage apparently started at noon, so I was counting on a 1:00 green flag. I was incorrect. It started somewhere past 2:00. The two-hour pre-race show was filled with enough hype to make Super Bowl promoters take note. In that time, we got to see and hear Rascal Flatts perform on a concert stage. I actually like Rascal Flatts, but I like them when I’m in music mode – not race mode. I don’t like mixing the two. I have never understood the need to provide a concert alongside something that is already a big event.

I usually like Chris Myers as a broadcaster. I remember when he was with the mothership of ESPN and was confined to the SportsCenter desk. When he made the move to FOX, he was a central figure in their NASCAR broadcasts and a sideline reporter for NFL games. I also admired the way he handled himself after the death of his nineteen year-old son in a car accident. God forbid that should ever happen to me, but if it did – I hope I can handle myself the way Myers did under the most tragic of circumstances.

That’s why I was so embarrassed for him on Sunday’s broadcast. Every time the broadcast was thrown his way, he would wish everyone Happy Daytona Day! I am hoping that Myers was doing that under duress due to an overzealous director making him say it. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that that was the circumstance and he would never utter those irritating words on his own.

The Daytona Day promotion FOX has used for the last few years is even more lame than the infamous I am Indy that, for years, was the gold-standard for lameness. I found Daytona Day irritating when I first heard it, but they really stepped it up for this year.

I’m not sure which is worse – irritating or annoying; but I’ll go with annoying. If Daytona Day was irritating, the presence of Michael Waltrip on the FOX broadcast was downright annoying. His brother Darrell is bad enough, but Michael is like Darrell on steroids. Pick any trait of Michael Waltrip – the voice, the goofiness, the unfunny jokes – any one trait by themselves is enough to make you want to change the channel; but to combine all of them into one annoying package is just way too awful to even comprehend.

Then there is Darrell Waltrip – Mr. Boogity-Boogity himself. His act was wearing thin a decade ago. To say he is a NASCAR shill is the understatement of a lifetime. Ol’ DW is the one who credits NASCAR with inventing everything from the SAFER barrier, the HANS device all the way to helmets, racing and the vaccine for smallpox. If it has helped mankind, Darrell Waltrip will say that NASCAR invented it.

When Danica Patrick was interviewed by Jamie Little, I told Susan that there will be no mention of her ending her career at the Indianapolis 500. Sure enough; uninformed viewers would’ve come away from that interview thinking that Sunday’s race was Danica’s last race ever. It wasn’t until after she crashed that Danica let it slip that she still has one more. It was only then that the announcers mentioned that she would be driving for Ed Carpenter in the Indianapolis 500 in May. Even ol’ DW acknowledged that Ed would be giving her a fast car.

Even Jeff Gordon joined the hype brigade when he said “No race is as patriotic as the Daytona 500”. I guess he didn’t turn around to see all of those Memorial Day related festivities going on behind him, when Gordon drove the Pace Car in the 2015 Indianapolis 500.

But I will give credit when due. I think Mike Joy is one of the best sportscasters around – in any sport. He is knowledgeable, smooth, relaxed, has a spontaneous wit about him and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He seems to be one of the few FOX NASCAR personalities that understands that fans tune in to watch the racing, not the so-called stars in the booth.

Speaking of the racing, it finally got underway after the lengthy and exhausting two-hour (plus) pre-race show. Peyton Manning drove the Pace Car – a good choice – but while he was driving it, it dawned on me that I had been reminded about three-hundred times that the Daytona 500 was The Great American Race. I thought it ironic that the Great American Race was being paced by a Toyota Camry. Before the NASCAR apologists come after me, I’m well aware that the Camry is built in Kentucky. But it is worth noting that the Indianapolis 500 has never been paced by a foreign manufacturer. Will it be someday? Probably. But it doesn’t bill itself as The Great American Race, either.

Once the green flag was waved by Charlize Theron – another good choice for very obvious reasons – it didn’t take long for the carnage to begin – only eight laps. One of the dumbest inventions that NASCAR actually is credited for, reared its ugly head – the stage racing. As Stage One neared it’s completion after the first sixty laps, drivers started jockeying for position and blocking on Lap 59. The result was a senseless crash that left four cars out of the race, including Jimmie Johnson.

Stage Racing is NASCAR’s latest desperate attempt to stem the tide of falling ratings. The Chase was bad enough. Changing the name from Chase to The Playoffs was even worse. Green-white-checkered (GWC) finishes just became another in a long list of gimmicks to provide contrived, made-for-TV racing. But Stage Racing is the worst of all. Artificially creating a race within a race is pointless.

Then there were the endless parades of boring green flag racing between the Big Ones. Watching a driver lose the draft, drop like a stone, then finding a drafting partner to work their way back to the front and repeating the entire cycle makes for some awfully good sleeping; but it is not my idea of entertaining racing.

Then of course, there was the finish. Is it just me, or is there something fundamentally wrong about winning a race by ramming the car in front of you on the last lap, and sending him into the wall as you drive around to take the checkered flag? If that’s what NASCAR rules allow, so be it. But it strikes me as going against the nature of motorsports, unless we’re talking Demolition Derby.

All of this might explain why the overnight ratings for the Daytona 500 were the lowest ever recorded. Of course, that statement sounds more dramatic than it really is because overnights were not immediately available prior to 2009. Still, the 5.1 rating was a 22% drop compared to last year’s 6.5. For comparison’s sake, the 2013 Daytona 500 had a 10.0 rating. Some are blaming the Olympics on NBC for the ratings drop. There’s no question that the Olympics were a factor, but there’s also no question that NASCAR’s popularity is in a free-fall.

Contrary to popular belief, it gives me no joy to say that. The perception in the US is that the only racing is NASCAR. Logic would say if NASCAR is down, they must all be down. That perception bleeds over to potential and current sponsors. It takes a savvy marketing person to realize that IndyCar racing is not following NASCAR’s trend. In fact, IndyCar is bucking the trend. It is one if the few sports with rising TV ratings and attendance. As far as auto racing is concerned, the Verizon IndyCar Series is one of the few form of motorsports with a rise in car-count.

Here are some ideas if NASCAR really wants to improve their product and reverse the ratings and attendance tailspin they are currently in. First, they need to ditch the gimmicks. They are too complicated for the casual fan to follow. I had someone at work Tuesday ask me what those stages were all about. He said he didn’t know that was done in racing. I assured him that it was not done in IndyCar.

Also make it about racing, and not crashing. Crashes may make SportsCenter highlights, but true racing fans don’t want to see them. The GWC doesn’t ensure that fans get to see a race to the finish – it only ensures more crashing. The finish in Sunday’s race should have been at the end of Lap 200. Instead, they called it overtime as the laps mounted up under yellow after Lap 198. Altogether, the field completed 207 laps – seventeen and a half more miles past the scheduled distance. It would be a shame to lose a race by running out of fuel on Lap 203, after budgeting for running two-hundred.

And another thing – present your product with some credibility, and not as a clown show. The Brothers Waltrip need to go. They add nothing to the telecast and take a lot away from it.

Overall, the time that I spent watching NASCAR on that beautiful Sunday afternoon was about five and a half hours of my life I’ll never get back. Yes, there are a few IndyCar races in the past that have elicited that same comment, but less painfully. I get it that not every race is a clinic. There will always be some duds thrown in there – regardless of the series. That’s just the nature of the sport. I also get it that it’s an announcer’s job to keep viewers interested in what they’re covering. The worst thing they can have is to have viewers turning off before the end. If a football team is down, it’s the announcer’s job to keep pointing out how the other team can come back, even if they know they’re covering a blowout.

But what I don’t get is how an announcing crew can hawk a sport or event all day, then when they are in the midst of a lull – they tell you how exciting this is. We aren’t stupid. We know the difference.

By the time my NASCAR marathon was over on Sunday, it made me that much more thankful to be an IndyCar fan. Does IndyCar have the perfect product? No. Do they have problems? Yes.

But IndyCar as an organization also acknowledges the problems head-on. As of late, they have not been taking the approach of sugar-coating their problems. NASCAR addresses their problems by cranking up the hype and telling their fans how wonderful things are. The recent approach to solving problems by IndyCar has been taking a methodical, well thought-out approach – not by throwing the latest gimmicky idea at it. The windscreen is a good example. They listened to fans and acknowledged that something needed to be done in the name of safety. But they did not panic and bow to pressure by throwing canopies on the cars.

With Jay Frye in one of the top spots making key decisions, I now have confidence that the series will make the right decisions more times than not. That has not always been the case, but the last few years it has been. Can NASCAR fans say that? No.

Among the current two IndyCar TV partners, neither of them try to hijack the coverage and make it about their on-air personalities. Comparing the IndyCar TV coverage to what I saw Sunday, it’s like comparing PBS to the Cartoon Network.

But in my opinion, the biggest gap between IndyCar and NASCAR is the on-track racing. We haven’t seen racing like we saw Sunday since the days of Paul Tracy and the chrome horn – and I say that as a good thing. Look, I like hard racing and minimal contact. But to boot someone out of the way and into the wall, like I saw at least twice on Sunday, can have fatal consequences in IndyCar. There is just no place for it. It doesn’t take any talent or bravery to stuff someone into the fence. It just takes some luck to survive it.

So after surviving another day of the Waltrip brothers, the incessant over-hyping of NASCAR into trying to make the general public believe that this is the only form of racing; my biggest takeaway was…Thank God I’m an IndyCar fan!

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Why I’m Glad To Be An IndyCar Fan”

  1. One more irratent,as mention in prior Tweet, the insesent Coke product placement every time a Coke sponsored driver was interviewed. Logano took a “drink” from a capped bottle. I think Dan Weldon started this years ago and it’s still annoying.

    Agree with your thoughts on the anouncing staff ,but Mr. Joy needs to eat more salads.

    Unfortunately Daytona was the only “race” on the Telly so I was compelled to watch .

  2. I did not watch one minute of the race. I haven’t watched a second of this series in about 5 years. It is not worth my time to watch a contrived game.

  3. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    My other vote was because I didn’t watch and would never watch Nascrap!

  4. I was a big Nascar fan for many years. They had already driven me away with all the rule changes and caving to political correctness. But the “race within a race” takes the cake for stupidity. No wonder their biggest stars have been fleeing the last couple years.

  5. Great and accurate post, George!

    The only thing Daytona had going for it was that Fergie did NOT sing the National Anthem. (Don’t get me started on that one!)

    I admit, I follow ALL forms of racing (with the exception of drag racing,) and I get that when you have a series for which you pay dearly, you have to do everything you can to make it appealing to the most people.

    NASCAR, sadly, has left “appealing” back on the Pace lap. As a fan of Danica Patrick, I HATE the fact that a bunch of bonehead drivers who OUGHT to know better were so concerned about getting “stage points” that they had to wipe out half the field. For her part, Danica was doing a very respectable job hanging in the top 20 when the “Goof Ol’ Boys” had a case of brain fade and took her out.

    I really don’t know how NASCAR would handle it if even MINIMAL contact would put a driver out of the race (as is the case in IndyCar,) but I have a feeling if that were the case, the pace car might win a few races.

    Just makes me that much more excited for the upcoming IndyCar season!

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I like NASCAR more than most who post here, I suspect, and I did not struggle with Sunday’s race any more than I have in past Daytona 500s. But that does not mean I found it to be an especially good race.

    Since the introduction of the 6th generation car, the restrictor plate races, especially the Daytona 500, have seen the leader with an especially pronounced advantage over the trailing cars in that they can weave between lanes with apparently little aerodynamic penalty.
    The merits of restrictor plate racing are debatable, but I think most can agree the appeal that they may have is rooted in their unpredictability. The ability of the leader to protect their position (or “block”, as we ought to say) with such apparent ease leads to a more predictable outcome or, as we saw Sunday, a trailing driver finally getting fed up with the blocking leader and deciding to move them out of the way. As such, the best restrictor plate racing NASCAR puts on these days is typically in the Truck series (Modifieds at New Hampshire notwithstanding).

    On the broadcast and team, FOX can be over the top at times but I think they often do well conveying that NASCAR races are important events. I would like it if they consistently used Hermie Sadler and his Ken Burns Civil War documentary letter-reader voice beyond the Truck series broadcasts. I would also like it if Michael Waltrip took a long walk off of a short pier.

  7. To save myself from re-hashing another typical Daytona 500/NASCAR event, I’ll just say that I, too, am glad that I am an IndyCar fan.

  8. Bruce Waine Says:

    Safety……………… What safety? ?

    Wonder what Richard (as in Richard Petty) or what A J (as in Mr. Foyt) would have done given this situation of being deliberately hit on the last lap and thus losing their race win ? ?

    Then there is the ever present safety concern, at least for reputable drivers.

    Had there been a casualty as a result of this gentlemanly punting of the leader, what then NASCAR ? ?

    To classify the 2017 Daytona finish as a JOKE, is being too kind…………….

    Oh, yes.

    Add me to the tally.

    A perfect record. Have not watched a NASCAR race in over thirty plus years…………..

    How about you?

  9. I did not watch because I was in northern Wisconsin for the 19th annual bar stool races at the Black Bear Inn in Drummond. We will race anything in Wisconsin. Participants in the “stock” division mount a U.S. Standard barstool on skis and race down the course. In the “open’ division you might see a canoe on skis, a beer barrel (empty of course) on skis, and so forth. Plenty of beer and chili add to the ambiance. No dorky announcers, no stages, no phantom yellows, and no green, white, checker. This was not “invented” by Nascar. They have a website and Facebook page with photos. I might add that in the bar, none of the TVs had the Nascar race on.

  10. Doug Benefiel Says:

    I am a fan of motor sports. IndyCar is my pasion. There was a day when I would not miss a NASCAR race but that day has long since past. I did watch this year’s Daytona “race” and consider it a total waste of a Sunday. Segment racing, GWC and the shameless self promotion have made this nothing but a sorry “made for TV” production. You have expressed my feelings much more succinctly than I. Thank you for your writtings. I hope I see you at Indy this year so I can introduce myself. Keep up the good work.

  11. My brother was a nascar fan for 25 yrs. I know plenty of other nascar fans as well. Here’s the thing: NONE of them have ever liked The Chase or green white checkers or overtime or the new stage racing. Nascar claims they come up with all this crap to generate “fan excitement.” All their fans that I personally know hate their manufactured gimmicks. The folks in charge of that sport are idiots! Oh, and ditto to all your observed criticisms George. Bring on St. Pete!

  12. pwadcock@yahoo.com Says:

    Michael Waltrip quote from Sunday…..”The more these laps wind down, the closer to the end we get!”

    Wow.

  13. Randy Holbrook Says:

    Great column George. I think you absolutely nailed it on every point. My only argument would be that Darrell is the more annoying Waltrip. I simply cannot listen to the guy and his cornball cliches –
    and that Grandma voice of his makes me physically ill. NASCAR racing is extremely boring these days except for the occasional road race which is much better but still has that whole punt your competition out of the way thing.

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