Don’t Be A Racing Snob

By Susan Phillips

As George sometimes says; there is a racing tie-in here, so hang in there with me.

In the Phillips household, we watch a lot of sports. Let me rephrase that. George watches a lot of sports. If I want to visit with him when we’re both home, I have to sit in the den and look at the side of his head while he watches sports. I enjoy watching the Tennessee Titans, the Tennessee Vols and of course Indy car races. But I’ll swear he would watch any football game that might be on the most obscure channel on our cable system.

I love Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights. He can’t stand it. But will he sit in the den while I watch it? No, he’ll go to the back room and watch Louisiana Tech play North Texas in football. He will watch the most meaningless games. I’m convinced he would watch the referees scrimmage each other if it was televised. Even if he’s in the other room completely involved with something else, he’ll hear if I change the channel away from football.

Now that football is over it’s not as bad, because George is not that into basketball. He’ll watch the Vols, but he doesn’t get all jagged out if they lose like he does with football. Now he’s getting restless wanting the racing season to start.

This is the time of year when I’m more into a sport than he is – hockey. In fact, I keep up with the Nashville Predators a lot more than he does. Neither of us grew up with hockey, but for four years I was the “hockey mom” for my son Eric’s high school team. The Predators were still fairly new in Nashville when Eric started playing in 2004. As a freshman, Eric could hardly even play but he quickly fell in love with the game. But hard work and desire overcame his lack of talent. He improved every year. By his senior year, he was the starting goaltender – not because he was so good, but the parents of their starting goalie made him quit the team. No one else would do it, so Eric volunteered. It wasn’t pretty at times, but he got the job done and sacrificed his senior year as a forward for the good of the team.

Eric was one of the few players that didn’t lace up a pair of skates until his freshman year. Most of the other kids had been playing hockey since they were four years old. They grew up in hockey households, mainly because they moved here from the north. I got along with most of the parents, but George called them “hockey snobs”. He claimed he couldn’t even carry on a conversation with them about what was going on with the team, because they discounted everything he said since he didn’t grow up with hockey.

As much as I hate to admit it, he was right. I was the team’s representative for the league’s board. I was considered the ditzy southern blonde that knew nothing about the sport and was never taken seriously, since I wasn’t a grizzled hockey parent.

If you haven’t checked the NHL standings lately, the Nashville Predators were tied with the best record in the whole league heading into Thursday night. I ran into some of my former fellow hockey moms last weekend. Not having much else in common with them these days, I mentioned how well the Predators are doing and that George and I might go to a few games. Actually, George went with his friend John McLallen (from One Take Only) to a game last month, one night when I was out of town.


But the reaction I got from my former hockey friends was an eye-roll with disgust. When I asked what was wrong, they went off about the bandwagon hockey fans. They were actually mad that the arena was now packed every night with fans that hadn’t been there before. For the next ten minutes, they griped about these new fans that knew nothing about hockey.

If Indy car suddenly became popular, I wondered how the longtime fans would feel. George swears that fans would welcome them with open arms because they are so desperate for new fans. Would they?

I worked in religious publishing for 27 years. I was always irked when I heard the ministers we worked with, talk in a very condescending way about people that would show up for church on Christmas Eve and Easter. Their attitude was that they wish they just wouldn’t show up at all. My thought was they should be glad they come at all. That’s the way I feel about the hockey snobs.

I’ll be blunt. I know very little about racing. Far less than those who come here three times a week. I know that. George knows that. I can say a lot of snarky things about my husband, but I can’t say he’s a racing snob. He loves the chance to introduce new fans to the sport. He doesn’t talk down to them or try to show off how much he knows. He takes his time with them and understands they are starting from scratch. He is very patient with them. I wish he was that patient with other parts of his life.

We know very few Indy car fans here in Nashville. Most of the time when we come across fans it’s at Indy or other tracks. Most are very friendly and accommodating and understand that I’m not as up to speed as most fans are. They seem OK with it and don’t mind explaining themselves if I ask a question. But there have been a very small percentage that seem to be the racing snob. If I don’t know who the next midget star is or who Sam Hanks was, they roll their eyes at me and never look my way the rest of the conversation.

I’ve also heard snide remarks made by a few about those that go to the infield for the party and don’t care if they even see a car. From what I’ve read here in the comments section, a lot of y’all were bitten by the racing bug in the infield in the 70s and 80s and eventually became the die-hard fans that you are today.

George and I went to the Nashville race together twice in 2002 and 2003 before I went to my first Indy 500 in 2004. I didn’t know what I was getting into and I’m lucky that George took time to explain things.

Back then, the fan club was called The Crew. I contacted some people online and made arrangements to take a cake to them for a function before the race one year, while George wandered around the garages. Some were very nice, and some were not. There were many who seemed to be asking why I was there if I didn’t know much about the sport. I got the feeling I was intruding on their little club that traveled around to races each week and sat around and told the same old stories. I was the interloper.

It’s funny. I’ve gotten to be friends with some of the ones that were nice to me that day. I still see some of them at Indy each year. The ones that were rude and snobby? I haven’t seen them since.

We enjoy taking new fans to races. Just last year, Eric, who’s now 25, brought his latest girlfriend to Indy just last year. We all did our best to take our time and explain what all was going on. They broke up later last summer, but she was one of many brand new fans that have sat with us in the last ten years.

What I’m getting at is if you come across new fans at the track or even in a conversation; don’t make them feel stupid or unwelcome just because they don’t know as much as you or haven’t followed the sport as long as you have. The hockey snobs always made me feel inferior. So did some of the racing snobs at The Crew. Don’t be a racing snob.

18 Responses to “Don’t Be A Racing Snob”

  1. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that the will be a sudden influx of uninitiated

  2. Sorry about the unfinished post. Let me continue. -……. new fans. New FANS would be welcome and heartily accepted by most of us. I do have an issue however with non-fans who come to an event because it happens to be “the place to be” on a given weekend.

    • Why? What is the problem with Indycar generating more money through ticket sales, food sales, merchandising . Plus some of these people who show up because it is the place to be may become fans. Besides, how do those folks bother you? Do they try to preach to you their non-fan agenda?

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    I have a friend who brings 2-3 new people to Indy every year. We answer their questions and explain to them what to expect at the race. We have a pre-race party the night before with a scavenger hunt or trivia game to help the newbies learn about the race. Several have become fans and return annually.

  4. elmondohummus Says:

    ” I’m convinced he would watch the referees scrimmage each other if it was televised.”

    Are you kidding? I would so totally pay to watch that! 😉

  5. elmondohummus Says:

    Ok, serious thought re: “Snob fans”

    Unfortunately, that’s sports. A lot of longtime fans who’ve suffered through a team’s low points get upset when people come out of the woodwork supporting a team when just a season or two, or three ago they were suffering TV blackouts and only the most cursory mentions on news broadcasts. They’re wondering where these other people were before, why they don’t see the glimmers of light in the bad old days with incredible players – or drivers – saddled with poor teams and lousy support because the viewership, and therefore the sponsor money, was not there.

    Now I’m not saying this is the correct attitude. I’m simply saying this is the longtime fan’s viewpoint.

    It is irritating to see someone come in as a Jonny-come-lately and start proclaiming love for the sport, then see them look blank faced when you mention one really good or well known player or driver during the down years. Indianapolis Colts fans all know who Peyton Manning is, and now Andrew Luck, Reggie Miller, Robert Mathis, etc., but without the Internet, tons of them would be hard pressed to name Ken Dilger, Quentin Coryatt, etc. Tons of even casual Indycar fans know Al Unser (both Sr. and Jr.), and even more who don’t know what the heck Indycar is can name AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti. If they watch TV, then maybe also Helio Castroneves. But only a few will recognize the initials “T.K.”, and fewer Buddy Lazier, Davy Hamilton, Vitor Meira… they won’t remember “Dan Wheldon” or Greg Moore, and distressingly (to the invested fan) won’t even recall the tragic crashes that ended their lives. And many will be very upset when they hear the words “Danica Patrick” and “NASCAR” so readily combined, as if Indycar was just some middle school she had to attend in her past.

    That may not be right, but if you think about it, it’s not entirely wrong either. Investment means something, and fans are not entirely happy when tons of new faces suddenly get the same treatment, or even a warmer welcome simply because they’re new and in greater numbers. You wonder what you got out of those times when you voluntarily elected to watch this sport during the down, embarrasing years, when you took the time to find and plan around the delayed broadcasts, made sure the old VCR (and now, DVR) was working and programmed right to get every last minute. You wonder why you’re not being rewarded for being happy to get the Jim Harbaugh jersey for nearly half the price of Brett Favre’s that year, or getting and being proud of your freely signed Dario autograph only to be astonished and feel bad for poor Dario when you see Earnhart Jr.’s merchandise go for double and triple digit dollars.

    You wonder why the investment was not being rewarded.

    And *this* is where the resentment comes from. It’s the longtime fan going “Where were all of you when the sport/team needed you? Where were all of you to help try to prevent the slide to hard times?”

    I understand it because that’s where I’ve been, and sometimes where I revisit. I get irritated when I see fellow Colts fans whine about the current year with Andrew Luck, and don’t understand the depths of futility of the Jeff George years. I can go on: Indiana University sports, some high school sports, Indycar

    But I also understand that it’s not right. Too much presumption is that success produces a bandwagon, not enough thought is put into the fact that many fans are genuinely new, and will learn enough love to endure the hard times. Too much presumption is made that simply because a fan doesn’t know Wheldon’s or Groff’s name now, they won’t remember Newgarden’s or Kimball’s in the future. That they won’t tell those new fans in 2020 that man, in his day, TK was the man, and it’s a crying shame he only won “X’ number of Indianapolis 500’s. That they won’t reminisce to those new fans that they remember Hildebrand when he came This Close to winning in 2011. Too much is made of when they came in, and not what their potential is for real investment, emotional and otherwise, for the sport you love.

    I get the resentment. I’ve lived it. But that doesn’t change Susan’s point one bit. We don’t have to presume that “newbies” are going to be superficial butterflies, flitting to and from an event on a whim. Many may end up that way, but without trying to cultivate the deep fans from the flock, how will we know which ones will provide the staying power to keep a team or a sport vibrant?

    How do we know that the bandwagon fan who jumped aboard the IU train in the mid 80s, who couldn’t name “towering” figures like Kent Benson or Quinn Buckner, would eventually become the fan who beat the couch in frustration during the 6 – 25 2008 season. How do we know that the guy who couldn’t name 2/3rds of the then *current* roster would eventually learn the lore and end up loving players from Uwe Blab in the 80’s to Tijan Jobe in the 2000’s? I don’t know… I just remember, no one gave me crap when I went “Ted Kitchell?” and “Bob Wilkerson?”. They just told me about them, what made them part of the lore, and why they’re remembered. And if a new fan says to me “Danica raced Indycar?”, I’ll tell them what they want to know. And I’ll do it without resentment. I’ll remember to tell them that man, she drove that Indianapolis race **so well**, and that she didn’t take crap from anybody in her time there. And hopefully, through that and other talks (“Oh man, nobody gives Vitor credit…”, “Oh yeah, I remember Josef’s rookie year…”), I’ll get across why the sport is so worthy of love. And hopefully do so while giving the impression of an embrace into the fanhood, not a shove away from it.

    Investments are for the *future*. And if we look to cash them in at the wrong time, we won’t get much out of them.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Well put.
      It is not unlike the Parable of the Vineyard Workers in Matthew 20. Just as those who worked 1, 3, and 6 hours received the same pay as those who worked the whole day, so too can a sport or team provide equal enjoyment to fans regardless of when they began following. Like the vineyard workers who worked all day, us long time fans can choose to be resentful that new fans are getting the same amount of enjoyment as we are, despite our far greater investment. Or we can be content to receive the enjoyment we expected to receive when we began following the sport or team. As the vineyard owner says in the parable, we got what we were promised, nothing more and nothing less.

      As someone who has followed racing for 25+ years, I’d say that the enjoyment we were promised is pretty darn good. I’d hope those who have followed racing for 5 or 50 years would agree.

    • Good points all around. I was worried about that, growing up a Blackhawks fan in the 90’s and 00’s when they were not on TV and only a few flies attended the games. My dad and I followed them constantly but, oh boy, they stunk. Suddenly Rocky Wirtz becomes the owner and now I have friends in Minnesota telling me they hate the Blackhawks because they have fans, success, etc etc, and it feels good to know the turnaround. My dad and I are thrilled that the United Center is sold out game after game, and from what I can tell on the radio, thankfully my fears about resentment from older fans isn’t apparent. Instead older Blackhawks fans are just happy to be living the high life and have a little company watching the game.
      So, while I completely understand that many jerks (especially ones who are focused on just one sport) may detest new fans, I can point out one similar example where all the new fans were welcomed. And, seriously, if the Milwaukee Mile and Pocono 500 were suddenly sellouts and Indycar was all over ESPN, it’d be hard to find an Indycar fan that was really THAT mad about it.

  6. Doug Gardner Says:

    Good post. Most Indycar fans would be welcoming at first. If it actually got popular enough for tickets to become hard to get to races outside of the 500 those longtime fans would complain. New Indycar fans are already snobs. They think Indycar racing is far superior to all other forms and discount other racing forms. I am a long timer like George. My first 500 was 1967. I have been to everyone since in the same seats my father had. I also will watch all other forms of racing with enjoyment, much like George and his football. I travel to local tracks to even watch ARCA races, miget, sprint, motogp etc… Racing needs as many fans as it can get. I have been one of those Snobs. Moving back to Indiana from Upstate New York I was a lacrosse snob to other parents. I am have reformed, but understand totally what you are saying.

    • I have a tough time with the idea that all IndyCar fans are snobs. It’s like saying all NASCAR fans are a bunch of rednecks. I won’t argue that it definitely has that stigma attached to it. It’s unfortunate and I wish it wasn’t perceived that way. Can someone chime in on where the IndyCar snob came from and why they think IndyCar fans are snobs?

  7. IndyCar needs as many fans as they can get. If it ever became popular again I would recommend long time fans just keeping their mouths shut and be accommodating. Buy a new fan a beer and shut up. To me there is nothing worse than a racing snob except maybe a drunk one(s). On the other hand a lot of newcomers are often surprised how complicated it can get and its not just a bunch of people driving around in circles all day. It’s probably one of the more difficult sports to pursue.

  8. IndyCar needs as many fans as they can get. If it ever became popular again I would recommend long time fans just keeping their mouths shut and be accommodating. But a new fan a beer and shut up. To me there is nothing worse than a racing snob except maybe a drunk one(s). On the other hand a lot of newcomers are often surprised how complicated it can get and its not just a bunch of people driving around in circles all day. It’s probably one of the more difficult sports to pursue.

  9. The only attribute to snobbery in my character (if this is snobbery) is when I correct people or make sure that when it comes to racing that they know I am first and foremost an IndyCar fan. With that said, I am extremely happy to talk racing with neophytes or the curious and, if need be, explain it. I will say that those that don’t like racing, football, baseball or hockey are not going to enjoy my company, but I am fine with that.

    By the way, who is the nice looking fellow in the picture with George at the Preds game?

  10. billytheskink Says:

    But… but it’s so much fun turning up your nose at people who don’t know the difference between Gordon Johncock and Ronnie Johncox.

    Seriously, though, this is good advice Susan. It has been my experience that Indycar fans are usually quite accommodating to newcomers to racing, where they struggle most often with snobbery is when dealing with those who are already racing fans but are most familiar with a different type of racing. This is not unique to Indycar, fans of NASCAR, Formula 1, sports cars, dirt cars, road racing, oval racing, drag racing, motorcycles, board tracks, pod racing, etc. are all guilty of this too at times. Few things will drive an interested fan of another type of racing away faster from your choice motorsport than belittling their choice motorsport.

  11. There was a time when your Preds and my Jackets were arch rivals. I always hated Tootoo. I have probably been to 80 games in Columbus and another 30 in Glendale when I lived mext door to the Yotes. I still don’t know what forechecking is. I recall our old President/GM/Head Coach Doug McClean snapping at a guy on a call in show asking him what exactly that was. We were a brand new franchise at the time (still are) and he felt insaulted by being asked such a simple question. No wonder he failed miserably at all his job titles.

    Relating this to IndyCar: there are still some things that announcers mention that I don’t understand yet I hear a lot of fans who criticize announcers when they dumb a broadcast down. So while you really can’t be a bandwagon fan in IndyCar (I suppose 500 only people are debatable), you can still be a snob to new/uneducated fans.

  12. Hockey? Susan, next time I see you at a race let’s talk. I have been a hockey fan since junior high. I used to get ribbing because I am from Southern California. No ice there! Then the Kings started winning for a while when Gretzky was here. And they are winning again, just not this year.

    I haven’t found IndyCar fans to be that stuck up. On the contrary, people have been very friendly and I ask tons of questions.

    When I mention I am a race fan to people, most folks say NASCAR. I try not to growl, but mention open wheel racing. I have been dissed by NASCAR fans telling me I am wasting my time, but I stand my ground without getting rude back.

    I too bring new folks to racing every chance I get. This is my third year watching live and cannot wait until Long Beach. Well, and St. Pete’s will be here before you know it.

  13. I’m a Pond Hockey snob. Keep your stick on the ice girl.

  14. I have found most IndyCar fans to be pretty receptive to people wanting to learn the sport. The ones who annoy me are the self-professed experts who spew incorrect information out of their mouths at an astonishing rate and will loudly berate anyone who thinks differently. I have a different view on this because I am a huge IndyCar fan that doesn’t care too much for the specifics…which makes me a “bandwagon” fan to some. Even though I have loved IndyCar since the late 70’s I have rarely learned the makes, engines, or intricate behind dthe scenes stories. I just like seeing fast machines being controlled (barely at times) by those with the skills to do so. I do regret not learning more during that time period and have slowly started to make inquiries of those I respect and have never found them to be overly rude. My guess is jerks will be jerks no matter what the sport or occupation and I’ve tried to avoid those types.
    I will end by saying thank you for the good article Susan and for expressing some views that people don’t like to think too much about.

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