Before I go any further, let me try to clarify what kind of racing I'm talking about (Those readers that are race fans, you can probably relate to this very-real struggle.). Because really, there are a lot of folks that have no idea. No judgment, they just don't. This is the IndyCar Series. Not NASCAR. I repeat, not NASCAR.
The best way to help non-race fans understand is to mention the Indianapolis 500. I used to be able to say "open-wheel racing," and most people would catch on to the type of cars I meant. But as the years have gone by, and IndyCar's popularity has gone downhill (thanks a lot, IRL/CART split), I get a lot more blank stares.
NASCARs are the ones that kind of look like regular cars. Except with decals for headlights. True story. IndyCars look cool. That's a very scientific explanation, I know. Anyway, the wheels are open from the car's "tub," where the driver sits. They also have front and rear wings on them.
I hope that helps explain the differences a little bit. If you're still confused, there's always the Google machine. Or IndyCar.com.
My racing history goes way back
I've been exposed to the auto racing world pretty much my whole life, thanks to my dad. He's been a fan since he was about 5 years old. Back in the days when he listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio and watched the great race on TV when it was tape delayed instead of live on national TV.
There's a home video of me from the early 90s at a Wisconsin road course watching the cars fly by down a straightaway. I apparently knew enough about it to recognize what I thought was Emerson Fittipaldi's car going by, because I proudly spoke his nickname, "Emmo!" on camera.
In Minnesota, a lot of families have cabins or lake homes where they spend their summers. For us, we took summer race trips. Traveling to a beautiful four-mile road course, Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wis. was an annual tradition. Believe me, this track is the furthest thing from the common idea that racing is "cars going around in a circle." That's NASCAR.
Nothing like visiting the tracks
We attended the Indy 500 in 2009 and 2011. It's the greatest spectacle in racing for a reason, just so you know. We've watched races on the streets of Long Beach, the oval in Iowa, on Cleveland airport runways along Erie's shore, in the country of Mid-Ohio and last year watched the inaugural Grand Prix of Indy on the road course at Indianapolis.
Yes, Indy is more than just four turns. Did you know there's also a golf course in the infield?
One other point here. As much as I love television, it does not do car racing justice. There's nothing like seeing those cars in person, hearing the engines, taking in the atmosphere of the sport.
So, what do I love about it all so much? It's a few things. The look of the open-wheel cars (and the way the designs have changed over the years), choosing favorite drivers to root for, walking through the paddock/pits area where you can see the cars and often drivers milling around.
Again, racing is so much more than cars going round and round. There's a lot of strategy that goes into it. I don't understand all the technology of it, but teams are always looking for ways to make the car turn faster laps. Then there's the fuel game during a race. Does a team owner want his driver in the back of the field to pit off-sequence from the other drivers, in hopes of taking the lead during a caution period? Of course, there's all the passing for position on the track, too.
Penalties have also come into play the past few seasons. There's a speed limit on pit road, which drivers can hit with the push of a button, but speeding violations result in a drive-through penalty if you don't get on the button quick enough before pit entrance. Drivers can also get called for blocking on the track. Those are probably the two most common penalties.
If you're thinking, "I still don't know anything having to do with racing," you might want to think again. Quite a few celebrities "at the very least dabbled in racing," according to my dad.
Before his reign as a late night talk show host, David Letterman was a part of the Indy 500 broadcast. Seriously. As my dad remembers it, Letterman was working at a local station in Indianapolis in 1971, and he was pulled in for the broadcast. He was misidentified by Jim McKay, actually.
In recent years, Letterman is part owner for an IndyCar team. He usually has the Indy 500 winners on his show. I'll miss that when he retires.
He's not the only famous person to have a brush with racing. How about this one for all you reality TV buffs out there: Bruce Jenner (who remember, was an Olympic athlete). He raced briefly in the 1980s and was also a pit reporter as part of the broadcast team.
Here are some others that tried their hand at becoming race drivers (thanks, Dad); maybe you've heard of them: Actor Steve McQueen, actor James Garner, actor Craig T. Nelson, actor Paul Newman, actor Tim Allen, musician Walter Payton, actor Patrick Dempsey, actor Frankie Muniz, musician Andrew Ridgeley, actor Jason Priestley and musician Christopher Cross.
Racing has been a part of the big screen, too. I'm not talking about "Ricky Bobby," either. Check out "Senna," "Rush" or "Driven." That last one isn't exactly the most realistic, but a lot of it is based on IndyCar at the time. "Senna" is a great documentary about one of the most storied Formula 1 drivers ever, Ayrton Senna, of Brazil.
I think what I like most about racing is that it draws a deep connection between my dad and me. He's got loads of video tapes with old races and his own video of countless practices, qualifying sessions and races. It's great to have something that we can watch together and talk about.
|Dad and me at Mid-Ohio in 2010.|
During a race in 1999, I was at home watching when driver Greg Moore was killed in a crash. Dad, who of course taped the race, was out for the afternoon. When he got home, I remember breaking the news to him that Moore died.
That's the tough part of the sport, but nevertheless it was a memory that for some reason stuck with me.
Dad and I have taken a couple trips together, just him and me, to races over the years. It's a blast. At the Indy GP last year, we watched one of the first sessions on the track before race day. In between track activities, we enjoyed a couple of beers together before noon. Because when you're on vacation at one of the greatest race tracks in the world, why not?
I love my dad for many reasons, but racing is definitely something that has created a great bond between us. Without him, I wouldn't be the racing fan that I am today.