by Kent Sterling
Ashley works in my wife’s office, and she was excited today when I popped in to say hello. “Did you see the NASCAR fight?” she asked. I have – a bunch of times on ESPN and online. It was impossible to miss because sports fans like drama.
Multiply that by 1,000,000 this morning, and the reason for NASCAR being popular enough for major networks to fight over the rights to show the races is clear, while IndyCar is stuck on the purgatory of the Versus Network.
Last week, Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya got a little sideways with one another – literally. After Montoya spun Newman, NASCAR put the two drivers in a hauler for a private meeting. What happened in there is anyone’s guess, but afterward Montoya was quoted as saying, “Newman hits like a girl.”
On Saturday night at Darlington, it was Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who got into it, and that is what is driving water cooler talk today.
The last time IndyCar generated any talk at all was when Helio Castroneves went nuts and started screaming at race officials behind a shed in the infield of a race that was run last year – I think.
With all the talk today on Sportscenter, my conversations in the dental office and on the phone, no one has mentioned who won the race in Richmond or at Darlington. I still have no idea who won, nor do I care.
IndyCar needs an infusion of drama, and I know IndyCars are too fragile to withstand the kind of “rubbin’ is racin'” behavior that stirs up the NASCAR fans – of which there are millions. But does NASCAR own some proprietary information or patents on the technology that allows for contact that won’t shatter the chassis?
The IndyCar Series put out a request for chassis designs last year, and easily could have made sturdiness part of the criteria. Speeds would have dropped, but people don’t show up to see 232 mph. They show up to see fast and faster, and they want drama.
You don’t need a degree in theatre to know that drama is impossible without conflict. And interest is impossible without drama.
If IndyCar doesn’t embrace the NASCAR model of building fan interest, races will continue to repel viewers at the rate of 299-out-of-300 homes with TVs.
I love the Indianapolis 500. Going to the race is a highlight every year, and I want a resurgence in its popularity in the worst way. Seeing the empty seats every race day is heartbreaking, but until fans have a driver to root for and root against, they have no reason to go to the race other than tradition. Tradition isn’t enough.
More importantly, every year when I talk to friends about coming to Indianapolis for the race, they act like I’m nuts to ask.
Please, for the love of Mauri Rose and Wilbur Shaw, do what’s necessary to turn some of those Monday morning conversations into recaps of open wheel events. Cars flying in circles without context is called traffic.