Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: My 1st IndyCar Race – Where Was Everybody?

That was an awesome race on Sunday. Oh? You didn’t see one? Something about rain? Well, New Hampshire didn’t suffer rain — we had moisture; which led to a controversial shortened event for the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225. I left the track well satisfied with my first foray to an IZOD IndyCar event. I didn’t arrive that way.

I think we all know there is a certain amount of competitive dislike between the Pointy Car Series and NASCAR. Despite a never ending exodus of drivers between the fender-free racing zone and our hefty stock car garage, the racing and fanbase are different, and that leads to the inevitable, “My race was better than yours,” mentality. I tried to enter into my race day with an open mind.

After all, Indy cars are something I’ve ogled on TV since my youth. I visited the Brickyard last year and soaked in some of the pomp and glamour that is associated with these technologically advanced cars, even though it was the NASCAR weekend when I was there. Sunday, I really thought going to an Indycar event would be something different. People would cram the midway with their Honda hats, polos and tight shorts. Very European and chic. I was so wrong. Must’ve been thinking F1 or something.

We stepped out of our Chevy Silverado and laughed. NHMS parked us where we usually pay for reserved camping for NASCAR, a nice, easy flat, stone’s throw from turn 1. Then we stopped and listened. There was something very wrong. We could hear crickets in the August afternoon instead of the low purr of a thousand generators, thump of incoming helicopters and general mayhem associated with a Sprint Cup race morning.

This lack of a carnival atmosphere didn’t change much as we approached the track. The midway was nearly barren, sporting only the IndyCar Fan Village, comparable to the Sprint Fan Zone. We looked a bit harder and spotted the AAA tent and a t-shirt store for IndyCar. That’s right, one. Souvenirs were surprisingly priced below most NASCAR memorabilia until you hit the polo-shirt racks.

We paid a modest $40 for general admission seats (I’ve paid higher for tickets to Thompson.) Once inside the gates, we managed to find a Danica t-shirt trailer (which looked suspiciously like the one we see at NASCAR events) and a Graham-Rahal trailer. I walked in a little circle looking at wide open spaces. Music piped in over the sound system came from a can packed in the the ’80s. I was beginning to suspect something, and it explains much about the rift that remains between the prestigious IndyCar Series and NASCAR’s Sprint Cup.

IndyCar has not entirely embraced the art of showmanship. Not even close.

The racing was awesome. Three-wide, side-by-side, points battles, rookies making a lot of noise, a fire in the pits, an upside down car in the tire barrier – even the cautions for “moisture” could not dim my enjoyment of the actual racing. That show beat out any Sprint Cup battle I’ve witnessed in the last five years at the Magic Mile.

What I missed was the show before the show. Where was it?

No crammed manufacturer’s midway, no mall full of t-shirts and diecasts. No slot car racing, pre-race concert, flags flying over a sea of RVs or even an army of logoed fans. Apparently since the region is new to the IndyCar circuit, we thought better of displaying our NASCAR favorites, resulting in nameless sweaters and jeans. And crowds? Well, at 30,000 the track wasn’t empty, just not full, which isn’t any different from various IndyCar races I’ve checked out on TV this year.

Now, it is true we go to the track for the race, ostensibly. But when you’re forfeiting the entire day to sit in traffic, waddle through mobs and sit on immoveable aluminum benches for hours on end, you do stop and consider if it’s worth the $100. Isn’t there a little something more to get out of the day?

When I arrive for a NASCAR event and am entertained by free bracelets, t-shirts, bags, key chains, radio personalities and on-air TV shows before I’ve even seen a racecar, I perceive that my money has not been entirely wasted. If I bring a buddy for the first time, I am more than able to assure them that they’ll find something to do. Did I mention all the food?

NASCAR and RJ Reynolds figured this race promotion deal out many years ago. Together they created a traveling circus that drew larger and larger crowds to their events. Times have changed and the sponsors’ names on the tents have, too. Instead of beer and tobacco, now we see home improvement stores offering up handy tips. Did you ever visit the Craftsmen Truck display back in the day? That was a killer rotating truck, with tire-changing stations and air-gun demos.

I entered into the IndyCar day with expectations of spectacle and was just stymied that after a hundred years of getting cars to go faster, any which way possible, that the sanctioning body hasn’t considered what it takes to get fans into the seats at the track. Indianapolis Motor Speedway might be the Mecca to the racing community, but it appears the idolization of auto racing resides there and only there.

As race time approached, a car with Acorn Stairlifts emblazoned on it was pushed past me. There were still more than two empty seats on either side of me. I wondered… is IndyCar stuck in the past? Do they believe that it only takes some good racing for about two hours to get people to fill up the stands? Are they thinking that such responsibility lies strictly with the track owners? Are they so blind? Or are they looking to the future where races are recorded in empty venues and broadcast to millions? Maybe I’m the one living in the past.

For my part, I had a great time. Should IndyCar return to the Great Northern Woods, I’ll pick up another $40 ticket at the gate. But I can guarantee that more than a few New Hampshire Motorspeedway regulars looked around on Sunday morning and wondered if they got the date right. Will they come back? Maybe… maybe not.

Maybe that is the same answer sweeping across the nation wherever IndyCar stops. We all know NASCAR fans have cut back on their visits to the track, citing costs and economy. But time and again, it’s been proven people will cough up cash if they are really excited about a product. It appears they’re far more excited about seeing NASCAR in person than IndyCar. And after my first IndyCar race, I can see why.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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