Who Cares What They Think?

I’ve been reading a version of the Racer Mailbag for the past twenty-five years or so, back when the late Robin Miller still worked for The Indianapolis Star. After he moved on, we were blessed to have two mailbags. Curt Cavin took over the mailbag at The Star, while Miller started another at his next destination – ESPN.com. When Miller joined SpeedTV.com, he carried the mailbag concept with him. When Racer.com took over the Speed website, they incorporated the mailbag into their regular lineup. It has been a Wednesday morning staple ever since.

When Robin Miller passed away in August of 2021, Marshall Pruett agreed to take it over. There is now more F1 and IMSA content than I would prefer in this newest version of the mailbag – but it is still pretty much a weekly destination for me.

Throughout all of these years, there has been one constant with the mailbag – the consistent whining of irrational fans.

Keep in mind; the word “fan” is derived from the word “fanatic”. In a sense, the phrase rational fan is really an oxymoron. For anyone that lives in Memphis, that means the two words contradict each other.

Last Wednesday’s edition of the Racer Mailbag featured a fan letter that I took note of, mainly for it’s asinine underlying concern. If Jim Doyle from Hoboken, New Jersey is a regular reader of this site; I apologize in advance because you are about to be grilled and probably will become a former reader.

Jim was writing in to express his view of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – or as he termed it “a melee that was called a race” – and how disgraceful it was that “the best drivers” couldn’t even complete a lap without six cars being taken out.

I really didn’t find it disgraceful – it’s a part of racing, and always has been. I didn’t necessarily love it, but once it was confirmed that no one was seriously injured, I just saw it as an unexpected turn that you get in racing. Mistakes happen when cars are inches apart at the start. Has Jim seen the start of the 1966 Indianapolis 500? What about the 1982 Indianapolis 500, just before the field took the green flag? Has he seen the beginning of the 1996 US 500 from Michigan? I’ll bet he really found it to be disgraceful.

As I read, I shrugged and was beginning to think that Jim was disgracing himself as a credible racing fan, if he found the opening crash to be “disgraceful. But about halfway through, Jim said something that took me from being mildly irritated to downright angry – angry enough to base an entire post on it.

Shortly after he disparaged the entire field with his sarcastic “best drivers” comment, he followed it up with (and I quote) “IndyCar is a laughing stock, and imagine what the F1 fans and drivers think after seeing such chaos.”

You know what, Jim? I don’t really care what they think. IndyCar should not be concerned with what another racing series thinks about it. You want to know what I think? I think a series that demotes a podium finish to fourth after the podium celebrations; and then reinstates it a few hours later for a very nitpicking violation, has little credibility. That’s what happened in yesterday’s F1 race, with Fernando Alonso.

We already know what F1 drivers think about IndyCar. They don’t even see IndyCar as good as Formula 2, or even Formula 3. In the early nineties, Niki Lauda was fond of saying that IndyCar was “lazy man’s racing”. When Nigel Mansell came over soon after that, the perception of IndyCar changed slightly overseas, but that was more from the fan’s perspective than the drivers themselves.

When Fernando Alonso qualified fifth in his first attempt Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Lewis Hamilton could not wait to take a swipe at IndyCar by pointing out how easy it is for a Formula One driver to come in and dominate immediately. When Alonso got bumped from the 2019 grid, Hamilton was strangely silent.

I don’t really care what Hamilton or any other former or current F1 stars think about IndyCar, and I hope that those in IndyCar’s upper-management don’t either. While the Drive to Survive series on Netflix has given a resurgence to Formula One in the US; I don’t really consider F1 to be a major competitor to IndyCar. Personally, I think it’s pretty far down the list – after March Madness, The Masters, NASCAR, Baseball and of course the NFL.

Formula One is rarely shown on television at the same time as an IndyCar race. Whatever potentially takes away eyeballs from an IndyCar telecast is their competition. If anything, Drive to Survive may draw in more fans because to the casual observer – the cars look quite similar and the races come on at a more convenient time, usually on network television.

Other than seeing Formula One as a possible threat to steal away fans, why on earth would anyone give a flip what some prima donna driver that may never sniff a race win thinks about IndyCar? I think IndyCar has a lot bigger problems that need their attention more than what Toto Wolfe thinks about IndyCar. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of carnage at the start of F1 races – so any snide remarks from across the pond should be redirected back to them.

I learned a long time ago to stop worrying about what others thought about me. If I tried to please everyone, I would end up pleasing no one. I try to earn and maintain the respect of those I care about, and not really worry about what anyone else thinks. My ex-wife was obsessed with what distant friends and total strangers thought about her, to the point that she neglected her own friends and family and didn’t care what they thought. It ultimately made her a very miserable person up until our divorce in 1996. Unfortunately for her, she never grew out of it and she has now grown into a bitter and miserable old woman…but I digress.

Jim’s last sentence said “I love IndyCar, but am hanging my head in shame”. I think Jim is getting dangerously close to officially joining The Legions of the Miserable. I would suggest that Jim stop worrying about what Formula One drivers and fans think. Life is too short to be disgraced by your passion. Maybe he should follow a sport he is more proud of. If he did, he would not find himself feeling disgraced by the racing series he claims to love.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Who Cares What They Think?”

  1. F1 night circuits sure do make a TV shine in this era, I will give F1 a smiley face for their nighttime races as a broadcast product. “Legions of the Miserable” is a catchy phrase.

  2. Rick Johnson Says:

    I grow weary of the constant whining by, not just IndyCar fans, but people today in general. I read the same Mailbag letter and had a similar reaction to yours. Every era of racing has had good races and bad ones, and that will doubtless never change.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    It is interesting how some folks will so easily blush over something they had no hand in making happen.

  4. Victor Lovisa Says:

    “In a sense, the phrase rational fan is really an oxymoron. For anyone that lives in Memphis, that means the two words contradict each other.”

    Now that’s just damn funny. Extraordinary work there George.

  5. It’s amazing to me how concerned most Indycar fans are about F1. I think the fad is starting to die off as Max will probably win 18 races this year and that’s just, well, dull. Indycar needs to stay in their lane and worry about their growth, not what the others are doing. Marshall is smug and give into it though, he’s not an advocate for the series, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

    • The more new fans F1 creates the more might cross over. I was a F1 fan way before CART /CHAMPCAR/INDYCAR but once discovered it’s has over the years become my number one open wheel series. Others might follow.

  6. austin nolan Says:

    great piece i have to say i find F1 today very boring after first lap or two thats it. I think Indycar is way ahead great racing and was it 8, 9 winners last season.

  7. Bravo! That’s the key! With social media these days, it’s very hard to get away from those that think they could do better, or that some other thing is better. I would have rather watched that St. Petersburg race than ANY current F1 race. That first lap incident was regrettable, but it was a chain reaction accident and not due to any incompetence by any driver! As you stated, I too have seen plenty of F1 incidents that probably shouldn’t have happened, same thing with NASCAR, IMSA and the NHRA drags…. it’s called racing!

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