“You can’t stir the pot and then complain about the results however.”
When I read that sentence on the IndyCar Nation forum (even though it wasn’t about this particular subject), I took it as a sign that this post should be written. I’ll warn y’all now: you may not like what I have to say. In fact, I could catch quite a bit of heat for the content and my manner of expression. I don’t care. Many thanks to the forum poster who’s comment was nudge I needed to get this going and to Mike (@Weevil96) for making sure this made sense to someone not inside my head.
It’s been said in many different articles that IndyCar racing lacks story lines. Even more so, it lacks compelling story lines. I don’t actually buy that idea, but I’m not so sure my thoughts should count on that matter since I’d watch the races anyway. However, in times where the fan base needs to grow and getting publicity is important, there is a need for more story lines. One of the most suggested ideas is to create rivalries. You know, the kind where the drivers really don’t like each other, are vocal about that, and the fans align themselves with the driver they feel is right. A rivalry creates drama that might not otherwise exist and anytime there is more drama, there is more attention.
But honest to goodness, I hope we’ll never get to the point where we absolutely need that to thrive. And yet, people are clamoring for rivalries. In all honesty, they can be captivating. However, I can’t understand the fans and media’s attitudes toward them. If one wants rivalries, one better be happy when there is one, whether it’s manufactured or not. I’ve seen it recently with the whole TK vs. Danica thing. Here, at last, there is a rivalry between the series’ most popular driver and one of, if not the most, respected drivers in the series. It’s popular vs. respected. The seeds were sown for a lot of fans to notice and for the media to call attention to it. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the public reaction to this series of events that have created this “rivalry” (it’s in quotes because TK indicated in an interview with Planet-IRL that things are looking peachy again). One look at the forums and you’ll see topics like:
It’s interesting to note that the topics display a variety of reactions to the whole situation. Apparently, the outcry for rivalries wasn’t to be taken seriously. Many fans and have stated their dislike (peruse above threads if you can stand it) and at least one professional writer has denounced it. These reactions irritate me. Seriously, if people can’t take the heat they ask for, then they shouldn’t ask for it. Plain and simple. Complaining about the lack of rivalries and then complaining about one when it finally happens is senseless. ”You can’t stir the pot and then complain about the results however.” All I can say is this: make up your mind what the hell you want and stick with it.
These reactions lead me to believe that the fan base isn’t ready for heated rivalries. I’ve heard of many fans who don’t pull for a particular driver and are generally happy with whoever wins. To me, that gives the impression that the fans couldn’t take sides in a rivalry unless someone was clearly wrong and all the world stood against him/her.
Sure, there may be things that happen during the race, but that’s called “racing.” Last I checked, it’s also normal. Regardless, the fan base doesn’t seem to be able to handle driver vs. driver controversy. And really, it’s not necessary. And honestly, as long as the respected drivers in the series don’t have issues with each other, there won’t be any lasting rivalries. For one, they like each other too much. TK’s comments on racing against his competitors (and friends!) at Iowa show how enjoyable it is to race against them and how they leave the competitiveness on the track (usually). It seems that was ingrained in them. I have a hunch where the, “we can be friends off the track, but on the track I’ll try even harder to kick your butt” mentality came from. To find that, I had to dig up some articles I read last October. You see, this mentality came from a time when the venerable TK and Dario were young crazy guys who spent time together with other young drivers off the track. (Translation: the CART days of the late 90′s.) Most commonly, the chief instigator of these shenanigans and assorted activities was the late Greg Moore. In one of the many pieces written upon the tenth anniversary of his passing, John Oreovicz wrote the following:
But perhaps more important was the way Moore triumphed over his rivals — with a huge smile and a contagious spirit that created strong, lifelong friendships among his competitors. ”In Europe, there is that background of ‘You’ve got to hate everybody to race against them,’” said Dario Franchitti, who was Moore’s closest friend on the circuit. “Then I came over here, and Greg kind of gathered everybody around and got everybody together doing different things, whether it was playing soccer or organizing a party. There was a whole group of us – Max Papis, Tony Kanaan, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Bryan Herta and Adrian Fernandez … we all became very good friends.
“Greg showed us that we didn’t have to hate each other. Because when we got on the track, trust me, he was as hard as anybody.”
If you look at that list, Kanaan and Franchitti still represent that attitude and mirror it in their interactions with other drivers. Now, ten years later, they are the old school drivers in the latest incarnation of American open wheel racing. Because of this, they set the tone for how drivers interact with each other. As long as drivers from that time cultivate the same mindset among newer or younger drivers, the rivalry concept simply won’t work. Frankly, that doesn’t disappoint me in the least.
Author’s note: Helio Castroneves, though noted for his friendship with Kanaan, has been omitted from this list because he played a much smaller role in the camaraderie of the late 90′s.