Two weeks ago, IndyCar pit spotter Patsy White tweeted this:
I love IndyCar. I have for 30 years. I’m sorry the ratings aren’t good, I’m sorry the TV package isn’t good but I still love IndyCar.
Before I continue, if you’re not following Patsy on Twitter, you’re missing out. Stop reading right now and go follow her. DO IT!
Back? OK, good. At the time, I retweeted Patsy’s tweet, as did most of my fellow IndyCar fans. And those who didn’t retweet it favorited it. I’ve been thinking about that tweet on and off for the past 2 weeks, and wondering what we, as fans, can do to help grow the sport. I don’t claim to have any answers, but after spending a weekend with my immediate family and some of my extended family, I realized there are very small steps we can all take to share our love of IndyCar with casual or new fans.
As I drove from my house in Maryland to my father’s house in New Jersey, the first practice at Milwaukee was going on. I timed my dog’s potty break with the beginning of practice, so as we pulled out of the rest stop I fired up my IndyCar 13 app (thank you, Verizon!) and was able to listen to every second of the action via the IndyCar Radio broadcast. (I did note that listening to practice would have been even easier if it was being broadcast on the IndyCar XM channel, but I could rant about the underuse of that channel for pages and pages so I’ll save that for another time.) When Mike King asked listeners to e-mail and let him know where we were listening, I pulled over and sent off a quick e-mail. I’d previously done the same when listening at home through racecontrol.indycar.com, and I still become a giddy schoolgirl when my e-mail is mentioned on air. How many professional sporting events allow something like that to happen?
So I was able to follow Marco Andretti’s P1 finishes in both practices in real time through the app, and I was later able to follow qualifying and celebrate his Verizon P1 Award hours before I could watch it on TV. Is the app the ideal way to follow practice and qualifying? Probably not, but it is pretty awesome that I can be anywhere and know–in real time–what’s going on in IndyCar, either through the app or the website.
My family’s Father’s Day barbecue was held on Saturday afternoon, which meant the Milwaukee race was starting just as the last burgers were being pulled off the grill. I like my burgers rare (the redder the better), so I was done eating first and able to slip into the kitchen to watch some of the race. I didn’t get to watch the whole broadcast, but I loved what I did see. Will Buxton was such a great addition to the team and I really hope we get to see more of him.
As I was watching, my brother in law walked in and said he never took me for a Ricky Bobby fan. I took a deep breath and explained that was NASCAR and this was IndyCar. He asked what the difference was, and I was able to give him the Cliff’s Notes version of the differences. It’s rare that my brother in law admits he doesn’t know something, but during our conversation he did just that. Without even trying, I had shared with him what I love about IndyCar. I don’t know if he will ever watch another IndyCar race, but not only did he get to see part of a race on TV, he was also able to ask me questions and learn why I love the sport.
A little while later, I was talking to my cousin. We are both big baseball fans and have attended many games together. He asked what I was doing for the summer and the first thing I said was I had gone to the Indy 500. He knew there was a golf course there, and he will do anything if golf is involved, so I immediately had his interest. I told him about my experience this year and last year, and I was able to show him my picture with Tony Kanaan on the morning after his big win. I told him about the incredible amount of driver interaction I’ve had at the 3 races I’ve attended in the past year. I reminded him how many baseball games we’ve attended together and asked if he ever remembers us interacting directly with any players. He admitted he could not remember anything other than yelling at a player in the bullpen or on the field.
He asked what there was to do besides the race and I told him about everything else that goes on during a race weekend. He said he had no idea I was so into “car racing,” and that was like a HUGE wakeup call for me. While I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out a way to introduce new fans to the sport, I’ve been overlooking the easiest, and possibly most effective, way. I realized, I don’t make it a point to talk to my non-IndyCar-fan friends about races or drivers or IndyCar generally on a regular basis. Sure, I’ll mention it here and there, but if it happens it’s almost always in passing. Is it likely those friends will turn into IndyCar fans? Maybe, maybe not, but I’ll never know if I don’t take the opportunity to share my love of the sport with them.
When my cousin left my father’s house to go home Saturday night, he said, “One of these years I’m going to go to Indy with you!” It’s not a firm commitment, but I believe he will remember our discussion and someday come with me to the race.
Talking about my race experiences made me realize just how awesome it is to be an IndyCar fan. I am an IndyCar Nation Champion member, and I’ve realized some benefit of that membership at every race I’ve attended. Even if it’s just the discount on LIDS products, it’s been well worth the $34.95 per year membership fee. Last year in Baltimore I was able to take a pace car ride and I was chosen for a picture with the race winner. This year in Indy I was again chosen for a picture with the race winner.
Also at Indy this year, I replied to a tweet from Team Chevy asking who was at IMS for Carb Day. They responded and told me to be at their Impala display that afternoon, where I was treated to a private meet-and-greet with two Chevy drivers. Opportunities like that are why I cringe when I see the stalkerish, creepy, crazy, fans who think the drivers are their friends. I don’t want anything to ruin the great thing we have going at races, and driver interactions are a huge part of that. I always want to be able to practically walk into Josef Newgarden on a random staircase in Baltimore because I’m not paying attention. (Yes, that really happened.)
Teams like Andretti Autosport (who recently sent me a Marco-autographed Venom drink bottle out of the blue because I “helped them reach 25,000 followers”) and Barracuda Racing are incredible with Twitter fan interaction, and the recently-created Paddock Insider account has sent an almost ridiculous number of prizes to fans (I’ve personally received three of them). Even Turbo the Snail has gotten into the act, offering prizes to fans who correctly answer trivia questions. I won a gorgeous movie poster through one of their Twitter contests.
Add in the paddock and pit passes I’ve had at races, the aforementioned random driver interactions, the planned tweet-ups and driver autograph sessions, and IndyCar is the most fan-friendly sport out there! As I said earlier, I’ve been to literally hundreds of baseball games in my life (for years I was a weekend season ticket holder) and I’ve never once gotten the autograph of a professional baseball player. Last year I had the autograph of my favorite IndyCar driver within an hour of first setting foot at IMS. And I wasn’t even trying to get it.
I’ve been vocal in the past about some of the negativity that has been known to follow IndyCar races for one reason or another, be it directed at the race itself, a decision by the powers-that-be, or a certain driver or drivers. I haven’t hidden the fact that it bothered me. It still does to an extent, but through reading blogs, tweets, and other postings on the matter, I’ve changed my opinion a bit.
Those of us who love IndyCar can be (and often are) very passionate about it. We are crazy about our drivers, our traditions, and our hopes for the future of the sport. And, if you’re like me, you don’t always have a lot of people to talk through such things in real life. And it can be hard to express ourselves online. But even if what we have to say is less than positive, isn’t it great that there are people who care enough to express their frustrations? (That’s not to say I believe those who do nothing but express frustrations are being constructive, but a good balance of positive and negative is never a bad thing, IMO.) Other sports have fans who discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of their sports, and IndyCar should be no different.
I didn’t intend for this to be a rambling blog post that went here, there, and everywhere, but sometimes these things just take off on their own. I’m just excited about this incredible season, and I’m hopeful about the future of IndyCar. I believe we as fans can help grow the sport, and it doesn’t have to be through huge efforts, though those would certainly be welcome. I firmly believe nobody could attend an IndyCar race and not come away a fan, but even if you can’t bring someone to a race, we can all talk about this sport we love. And if our excitement comes through in those discussions, people may want to find out more about IndyCar.
There are so many great opportunities open to us as fans. I only recently started attending races, so I don’t know how it was before. But from my perspective right now, it’s a great time to be an IndyCar fan!