The Life Of An IndyCar Fan In The UK

seethelizard_400x400
By Matthew Lawrenson

Note from George – First of all…yes, that’s a picture of a lizard.

A few weeks ago I was approached by a longtime reader named Matthew Lawrenson, who lives in his native United Kingdom. He rarely comments on this site, but frequently comments to me on Twitter (@seethelizards) regarding this site and anything that has to do with IndyCar racing. His offer to me a few weeks back was to write a guest-post about a unique topic regarding what it’s like being an IndyCar fan on the other side of the pond. I’m still amazed (and honored) that there is a fairly significant number of international readers that come to this site on a regular basis.

He sent me his post last week and I found it to be a good read, so I thought I would share it as today’s post. The lizard? That’s his current Twitter profile photo. When I asked him to send me a photo to use above the post, this is what he sent. Go figure… – GP

Right now, I bet you’re wondering who exactly I am. Some of you may have seen me on Twitter making fun of something or other, or proclaiming that a YouTube video of Langhorne ’63 is seems like utter madness. You may even have read my short film script "The Search For The Classic Tenderloin" on my usual blog, though my pageview statistics suggest against it. Ok, I’m 42 and live in Preston, England (about 20 miles north from where the legendary Jim Crawford grew up). I like beer, paisley shirts, and of course, motor racing.

Like most racing fans of my generation, I was brought up on Formula One. Unusually, both my parents hate it and so every Sunday in the 1980s we had to go and walk the dogs at the local park instead of watching the Grand Prix. Between 1987 and 1988, we even lived forty-five minutes drive from Silverstone, but I doubt a trip to the British GP was ever considered. The only time I ever saw the races was when we went to my grandparents’ house for weekends. They always watched it. Grandad was a car guy, and Nan loved cheering on the British drivers. It was loud and colourful, so what more could any 9-year-old want?

I never saw a full season of F1 until I got my first bedroom TV when I was 16 in 1992. As all fans know, that season was the "Mansellmania" year, when Nigel demolished the opposition – Senna, Berger, Alesi, Schumacher et al. – by his sheer bravery and driver skill. And certainly not his driver aid-stuffed Williams FW14 or anything. Still, Il Leone’s tempestuous nature meant he fell out with his team that year. And where did he end up? Driving an IndyCar for Newman Haas.

For most of my generation (the youthful Autosport hounds aside, there was no internet back then), this was the first time we’d heard of "IndyCar". I distinctly remember the newspaper my father bought announcing Mansell’s move with a double-page spread of a 1992 Lola in glorious carbon fibre black. The attached article basically said "These ‘Indy Cars’ are bigger and heavier than F1 cars, so Fat Nige won’t have any problems fitting in.". How the British press loves its sporting heroes. Though they cheered when he won the CART series as a rookie, while favourably comparing his efforts to Michael Andretti’s 1993 season at McLaren.

While this raised IndyCar’s profile in the UK, we only saw odd clips of races on terrestrial channels. Mansell departed (surprise!) Newman Haas in a huff, and it vanished for the casual race UK fan again. I didn’t hear much about US racing until I was in my twenties and started buying the magazines (Autosport and MotorSport). Imagine my bemusement when I found there were now TWO top tier US racing series. I had no idea about the politics behind it at the time beyond mutterings at the Atlas F1 forum. Probably for the best, really.

Like most people, what I spend my free time on is dependent on what’s available during the waking hours of that said free time. Presently, I work Sunday afternoon/evening, so watching the live F1 race is out for me. So where to find get my alternative fix? And thankfully, IndyCar is there for me. I finish work at 8 pm, and the races usually start at 8:30 pm (BST). So, easy, right? Go home and fire up the TV and sit down with a few beers in the company of Dixie, TK, the Mayor and Rossi. If only life were that simple.

Sunday evening TV in the UK is all about "historical drama", basically nostalgic nonsense about a period of time the intended audience remember (though not too well, of course, because they’d know things weren’t actually better).

Period soundtrack, plucky heroines, steadfast heroes and a feel-good climax at the end. Personally, I think it’s twaddle, but try getting the other people in my house to switch from THAT to the IndyCar race on BT Sport. It’s not going to happen. So, generally, I have to go straight from work to Wings & Beer Co. , Preston’s local multi-screen sports bar. If I get the penultimate bus to town, I can just about make it for 8:20 pm, usually in time for the Butterball turkey spot (usually disappointing – now, Bobby Unser could show them what you could really do with a turkey).

I ensure I have a table booked in advance. Not to make sure I get a seat, of course – even in major drinking towns like Preston the bars are unlikely to be busy at 8:30 pm. No, I do it to make sure they right channel is on the TV in front of me. Though a few weeks back I got there early and found it showing the Formula 3 Euro Series (Ferdinand Habsburg, eh? From ruling Austria-Hungary to feeder series backmarking in 100 years – and you worry if YOUR family has fallen in status recently). Still, after buying beer at five pounds a pint, I get free popcorn and peace and quiet. And probably doubling IndyCar’s UK ratings too as at least five of the sports bar’s screens have it on.

One of the telling ironies watching IndyCar here is we actually see more of the race than the US viewers do. For numerous reasons, probably due to differing advertising regulations here and lack of demand for it in that slot, we see the race almost commercial-free. For that, the BT Sport team take over – basically two poorly paid men sitting in a tiny booth in somewhere like Maidstone. Let’s hope it leads to more remunerating pursuits for them eventually.

The race usually finishes around 10:30 pm, by which time the staff are doing things like polishing glasses, metal fixtures, walls and probably muttering under their breath "When is this paisley-shirted idiot going home? It’s really really late."  To reassure them, I make sure I put my coat on for the last five laps or so, and try and make my beer last until the end (Scott Dixon has nothing on my level of ‘fuel saving’). At the end of the race, I watch the leader cross the line, give a hearty English "See you next time!" and leave.

Of course, by this time, there is no public transport and after those beers even if I could drive it would be inadvisable. So, a 45 minute walk home it is.  In the twilight, but at least it’s summer.  As I pass the pub landlords smoking outside ("Late out tonight eh, Matt?"), random dudes shouting at bus stops and unfortunates stopped by police on the arterial road I think to myself:

"THANK GOD I’M AN INDYCAR FAN!"

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13 Responses to “The Life Of An IndyCar Fan In The UK”

  1. Living in the UK as well I feel your pain. 🙂

  2. Oliver wells. Says:

    Maybe get sky plus ? Completely changed my life. Yes, I’m always amused that we see more of the races here care of less ads and that’s good when it was being shown on ABC care of the third rate commentary. Care of Justin Wilson and others quite a few Indycar fans here in the UK. And our version of Rockingham was great!!

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    What is it with Brits and paisley shirts? 😀 Great article Matthew, thanks for sharing, and thanks for your dedication to our little racing sport. I have a feeling there will be a lot more international viewers next season. 😉

    • M.Lawrenson Says:

      Thanks. Reading Racer.com yesterday about the Alonso news (funnily enough, their F1 writer, Chris Medland, is an alumni of my town’s university) was nerve-racking for me. “Oh no,” I thought “I’m gonna get bumped. I’ll be Oilpressure.com’s First Alternate for August.”

  4. thanks George & Matthew. Interesting to read about how Mansell changed Matthew’s life-long viewing habits on a day when Alonzo has Indycar news all abuzz. Forty-five minute walk home–don’t they have Uber in the UK?

    • M.Lawrenson Says:

      We do, but it hasn’t reached Preston. I baulk at paying Sunday evening cab fees for a three mile journey. Besides, I’m getting old and fat and need the exercise.

  5. A different perspective. Funny stuff. I haven’t worn a paisley shirt since the 60s, though I fondly recall the girls of that era in paisley miniskirts. Is that a chameleon in the photo with the colorful livery?

    • billytheskink Says:

      It appears to be a wall lizard, one of the more common reptiles found in Europe.

      As skink, I greatly appreciate Matthew’s thoughts on being a fellow lizard Indycar fan.

  6. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Glad to hear your perspective! Thank you for sharing. It’s always interesting to me to hear how others enjoy Indycar in new and unique ways. Cheers!

  7. Thank you, Matt. I appreciate your dedication to IndyCar.

  8. Mark J Wick Says:

    As a formerly wee lad in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 50s, I enjoyed reading this take on life in my former neighboring country to the South.
    I did have a nice conversation with Jim Crawford ahead of his first Indy 500, in which he said he was going to be the next Jimmy Clark. That didn’t happen, but I did make money nearly every year with my photos if him hitting the Turn 1 wall, and the year he set the then (unofficial) altitude record after his own wheel flipped his car straight up in the air in the South Chute after he hit the Turn 1 wall.

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