Random Thoughts: The Solitude of an IndyCar Race

Late in the evening of June 25, 2011, as I was enjoying the aftermath of Marco Andretti’s second-career IndyCar victory in the Iowa Corn Indy 250, I reached for my phone during a commercial break.  Much to my surprise, I had a large number of Twitter mentions and text messages.  They were all from the same person, a friend asking why I wasn’t “tweeting my head off” over Marco’s victory.  She assumed I wasn’t watching the race, since I hadn’t been posting about it.  I guess she assumed I normally tweeted or posted on facebook during races.

The truth is, I generally stay off Twitter and facebook during races.

I’m a huge sports fan, and I take my sporting events very seriously.  I’ve been known to rearrange plans to accommodate a sporting event I want to watch.  Be it IndyCar, baseball, college football, or the NFL, at one time or another I’ve cleared my calendar so I can be home in front of my TV for a sporting event.  I’m not one who enjoys gathering in a sports bar to watch my favorite team or driver compete.  I like to allow myself to become immersed in the event as it unfolds, and this includes a large amount of pacing, talking to the TV, crossing fingers for luck, and at times even screaming.  Yes, I know the competitors can’t hear me, and I know nothing I do at home makes a bit of difference in the outcome.  But that doesn’t matter.  I will wear the same shirt for a week’s worth of games if my team is winning, and I’ll wash that shirt as soon as they lose.

I am not the only one in my family who is like this.  My father is still convinced the Yankees won 4 out of 5 World Series victories from 1996-2000 due to a blue Snoopy Band-Aid he received from his doctor, and which he placed on his forehead for every single game of every playoff series during those years.  There were even games where the Yankees were losing–until he remembered the Band-Aid.

I don’t want to have to keep up a conversation with a friend during a sporting event in which I am invested.  When the Yankees returned to the World Series in 2009, I had an after-work event at a sports bar on the night of Game 2 against the Phillies.  My friends thought it was perfect–we’d have our event and then I could stay and watch the game.  It took everything in me to stay at the bar until the second inning, when I couldn’t take anymore and I hurried home to catch the rest of the game in the privacy of my living room.  (The one exception to my “being-alone-to-watch” rule is college football.  I started my true fan experience as a Penn State student sitting in the student section of Beaver Stadium, or huddled around a TV in the student commons.  So I don’t have a problem getting together with a group of friends to watch Penn State play.)

If you’ve followed me at all, you know I love to tweet.  A lot.  I also post to facebook a lot.  I have friends and family all over the world, and social media allows me to keep in touch with them, as it does for so many others today.  I enjoy being able to share my life with many friends and family with the click of a button.  Twitter has also provided so many of us a look into the lives of the sports figures we admire.  We are able to reach out to them directly, and sometimes we even get a reply.  It’s truly amazing, and almost hard to remember the days (not so long ago) when it didn’t exist.

But those of us who spend a lot of time on social media have experienced the negatives too.  People who fill up your Twitter timeline with a rant you’d rather not see, or who “Like” or comment on every single thing you put on facebook.  People on Twitter who use their anonymity to reply with really ugly stuff.  Facebook users who try to hijack every single status message and turn it into their own personal crusade against something–regardless of whether the topic has anything to do with the original message.  Or those who name call on either platform, even when they don’t know you.  I’ve been called far worse things on social media than I ever have in real life.  And almost always by complete strangers.

Then there are the obnoxious “fans.”  Those people who think their team/driver walks on water and never does anything wrong.  Oh, and the whole world is out to get their team/driver too.  Every move that isn’t 100% beneficial for their team/driver provides them with further evidence that the refs/officials/opponent/fans of the opponent have it in for their favorite.  My personal favorite comments are the ones that imply their favorite’s actions should be overlooked because someone else does the same thing.  Running a close second are the complaints about someone’s favorite being the ONLY ONE who gets criticized in a certain situation.

All of these social media users seem to come out in full force during a sporting event.  It’s the main reason I stay off Twitter and facebok during games/races.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and they are free to express themselves however they choose.  I just choose when and where I want to read them.  And it’s not during a game or race.  I will use Twitter to find friends at the track, or to keep track of driver appearances, and I’ve won private meet and greets with drivers by responding to manufacturer or team tweets while at the track.  But when the green flag drops, all of that ends.

For me, an IndyCar race provides a great deal of solitude.  It’s one of the reasons I will always rent a scanner or FanVision when I attend a race.  In addition to allowing me to listen in on what is being said on a driver’s radio (let’s be real, 99% of the time I’m listening to Marco, unless he’s out of the race), it helps me shut out those around me and concentrate on the cars going around the track.  The beautiful sound of those engines makes it nearly impossible to talk to whoever is at the race with me anyway, so for those few hours I can enjoy what’s unfolding in front of me without distraction.

Lest anyone take me the wrong way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being active on social media during a sporting event.  I have many friends who are very good at it, and who enjoy it.  Others are required to tweet or post to facebook during games/races due to their jobs.  If that is something you choose to do, for whatever reason, I think that’s great.  It’s all part of your sports experience and I’m not here to try to change that.  It’s just not for me.

Were I to tweet or post to facebook during races, my timeline would probably look something like this:

YOU CAN’T PASS THERE!

NO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

WHAT THE &*(^

I agonize over every lap, every move, and sometimes it’s worse when my favorite drivers are doing well.  If my driver goes out early (see Texas, 2014), I still enjoy the race, there is just a lot less stress for me.  And yes, agonizing over every lap really does mean I am enjoying the race.  I call it my race workout–I’ll jump up when something big happens, pace when cars are under yellow, watch restarts through my fingers, and pump my fist when my driver takes the lead.  Last year in Baltimore, a newspaper photographer took a photo of me watching the big screen while Marco was leading the race.  I had my hands clasped in front of my mouth and he told me from my body language he thought I was a crew member (I was wearing an RC Cola jersey and hat at the time…) and not “just a fan.”  He showed me the photo and took my name and information, but I don’t think the photo ever made it into the paper.

Some people feel more involved in the race when they post to social media.  I definitely understand that, because in between races Twitter and facebook help keep me connected to IndyCar.  (See my previous post about my IndyCar family.)  And as soon as the race is over, I am back on social media posting my congratulations and sometimes my thoughts about the race in general.  But during the race, my phone is on silent (or vibrate if I think an important call may come in) and tucked away in a pocket or my bag, or just on the table nearby if I’m watching at home.  I don’t want the distraction.

Yesterday at work we had a seminar on communication.  One of the main points was how it truly isn’t possible to multitask.  If the person to whom you are trying to speak is paying attention to their phone, they are not paying attention to you.  Or at least not full attention.  You can give part of your attention to several things at once, but you can only give your full attention to one thing at a time.

For me during an IndyCar race, I choose to give my full attention to the cars and drivers on the track.  There will be time for social media later.

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