When the new 2012 IndyCar debuts next year on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, the hope is that the car will represent a technical revolution and a clean break from the stagnant machines of the past nine years.
My hope is that another revolution will be taking place on the other side of the fence.
Last week, More Front Wing received an e-mail from one fan lamenting that the level of frustration and negativity of the most vocal INDYCAR fans has become a distraction to growing the series and attracting new fans. One portion of the e-mail effectively outlines his argument:
…in more than one blog, you could find complaints with the Toronto event for too many crashes and not enough calls. Complaints in the same blog for too many calls for penalties at Edmonton. Complaints again in the same blog about the boring racing at Mid-Ohio. Each race is framed on many INDYCAR blogs by the negative aspects of the events. Is each of the above valid? To some degree, yes… but each point could be brought up in a way to offer constructive insight instead of the negativity and hatred towards the Series officiating that they have. Somewhere along the way, that focus for many has shifted from an outlet for thoughts and opinions to an outlet for pure criticism. And it's creating a pool of negativity that's feeding itself at this point.
Though this fan was specifically writing about some INDYCAR blogs, his argument can easily be stretched to encompass much of the larger fan base as a whole. (The blogs are, after all, supposed to represent the voice of the everyday fans, are they not?) Just five minutes spent on Facebook, Twitter, or TrackForum will tell a person all they need to know about how the fan base is feeling about many of the events in North America’s premier open-wheel racing series.
Perhaps more accurately, doing so will demonstrate how the fan base’s feelings are being portrayed. Let's hope there is a big difference.
As with anything in life, it’s often difficult to judge the feelings of an entire population based on a small sampling of data. Particularly when gauging opinions, those who are the most upset always make the most noise. To say that the “entire” INDYCAR fan base is represented by the views of those on TrackForum is obviously a gross exaggeration. But to the casual viewer who is maybe just starting to follow the IZOD IndyCar Series, the general cloud of cynicism that permeates those who are supposed to be its most ardent fans speaks volumes and leaves them questioning why they should devote more time to the sport.
Are all things perfect in the IZOD IndyCar Series? Of course they aren’t. Anyone who would try to convince you otherwise is delusional, naïve, or just drinking the Kool-Aid. But I also don’t think things are nearly as universally bad as many would have us believe, either. If left to the fans to report, the only event that would have occurred during the last race at New Hampshire would have been the final restart. Sadly, that completely ignores the great runs by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Oriol Servia, the great start of the race for Tomas Scheckter (who once again proved why he is one of the most exciting drivers in the field when he passed 12 cars in less than one full lap of combined green flag time), and any number of other notable storylines. For every article, post, or tweet about any of these stories, there are dozens more about the fouled-up restart at the end of the race. New Hampshire isn't the only race affected by such imbalances, either -- I can just as easily rattle off similar cases for Toronto, Edmonton, Texas, and so on.
There is no doubt that, even three and a half years after the North American open-wheel racing scene was finally unified after nearly 30 years of separation, a certain amount of bitterness, divisiveness, and resentment lingers on. While most fans do accept the IZOD IndyCar Series as the premier open-wheel racing series in North America, there are still those who view the sport with an “us vs. them” mentality, who see the current Dallara and any vestiges to the Tony George era as barricades to real advancement, and who see the outnumbering of ovals by road and street courses as a slap in the face to the original vision of the Indy Racing League. It's time for all of us to accept that those days are in the past. There are certainly areas that INDYCAR can tidy up to help make fans a bit more confident in the direction of the Series, but for those who profess to love open-wheel racing, an evaluation may be in order of how they project themselves and the sport in the view of new fans and understand that they are being watched by those who may soon become the sport’s biggest supporters.
INDYCAR racing has a phenomenal heritage and a bright future. With the new car and engine technologies coming in 2012, an exciting new era is upon us that will see the teams back on a level playing field and starting from a clean sheet of paper. I have great hope that along with a new era on the track, a new era off the track can bring about a shift in the mindset of those fans who still cling to the animosity that defined too many years of the recent past.
Paul Dalbey(@Fieldof33) is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.