Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jeff Gordon, Yay or Nay?

Hard to believe that May is finally here! For a bunch of reasons, I haven't had a chance to follow the IndyCar season as closely as I've wanted to so far, but as you know that will soon change. While I don't spend a lot of time in this space, as always I'll be here for the events leading up to the 500. After all, this is why I started this blog! Hard to believe that in December this blog will celebrate its fifth birthday!

Anyway, I thought I'd kick off the month by talking about our pace car driver. It was a bit of a surprise to me to hear the news that retiring NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon would be wheeling the Chevy Corvette in front of the field in three weeks time, and I think it caught a lot of you off guard too.

As usual, there was the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth over this. Part of that is understandable, it's a little strange to see an active driver from another series pacing the field, especially on a day where that person will be driving in another race later that night. After driving the pace car and watching the opening laps of the race, Gordon and his family will fly to Charlotte for that night's Coke 600. And, it's a little weird because it's a driver from the sworn enemy race series, I'll give you that.

Still, like it or not, Gordon has a spot in Speedway history, just like Michael Schumacher does. While what they accomplished pales greatly in comparison to winning the Indy 500, both have been dominant in their respective disciplines at the Speedway. Gordon has won five of the 20 Brickyard 400 races ever contested, and is among the leaders in laps led and money won. Numbers don't lie.

Does that justify his driving the pace car? Who knows, but if you look at the history of pace car drivers, there is often very little rhyme or reason to it, especially over the last 15-20 years. I definitely prefer a Jeff Gordon driving the pace car as opposed to some actor or celeb personality. And hey, let's thank the good Lord they have never asked a Kardashian to drive...although the ill-fated Donald Trump idea was just as bad.

Of course, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this decision does to "help" or "hurt" IndyCar, or how it moves the all-important "needle". Really, if you are thinking in those terms you are micromanaging your fandom to the degree that it is affecting your enjoyment of the sport.

And as far as the needle goes, I have been waiting for the perfect blog post to ask this question, and here it is: Why do you care? I guess I've never understood the discussions about attendance or TV ratings or marketing, because in the end none of that matters to me. Sure I like to read that lots of people watched a race or like seeing more people in the stands, but in the end I have no control over that. If the TV viewership consisted of me, my wife, and the couple dozen cool people I've met through this blog, I'd be OK with that.

I get the fact that there are business implications and the health of the series depends on that, but that doesn't matter to me and my enjoyment of IndyCar. As I've said before, I'm a college dropout, and I don't even pretend to think that I know about the business side of this sport. So I don't think about it, and I sure as heck don't dissect to the nth degree every decision that gets made.

Despite what part-of-the-problem people like Robin Miller think, I believe the series is in good hands, is being run by people who know what they are doing, and is going in the right direction. I don't need TV viewers or full grandstands to validate my fandom, and you shouldn't either. Just love the sport. As the great, trailblazing IndyCar blogger Zach Houghton once said, we only have so many IndyCar seasons in our life to enjoy, why let negativity bog down your enjoyment of it? (Or something like that)

Besides, what matters most isn't the person driving the pace car, it's the 33 men and women behind him who are going to battle for 500 miles when he pulls off the track. Let's keep that in perspective.

I'm excited about May, and also that I will be starting the month in Indy. I'll be heading down there tomorrow to run the Indy Mini Marathon on Saturday, then if the weather is good I plan on stopping by the track on Sunday for a while before heading home. Then of course we'll be back on the 24th for the big event. Look for me at the track on Sunday...I'll be the one walking very, very slowly. Running 13.1 miles does that to a guy!