With the IZOD IndyCar Series coming off a great string of races, it’s a great time to take a deeper look at how we engage the sport, especially when it comes to family. The racing is excellent, the points battle white-hot, and it seems like there’s a surprise every weekend. That makes INDYCAR a perfect sort of exciting experience to share with the spouse and kids.
If you’re like me, you live, breathe, eat, sleep, and drink INDYCAR racing throughout the season. As impatient as I am for the each race weekend, I’m also a family man; I don’t want to just tune the family out for 3-4 hours each Saturday or Sunday once the season begins; I want the whole family to enjoy INDYCAR. While I don’t want to force it on them, if my kids are going to races with me 15 or 20 years from now, I’ll be thrilled. For many, a lifelong love of INDYCAR starts with great memories from their youth.
With that in mind, here a few items I started last year to make our INDYCAR weekends a family experience:
-Give the family someone to cheer for! I print off the cars from the spotter’s guide, cut them out, and put them in a hat. Everyone got to draw two random drivers as “their” drivers for that week, and pick one other “favorite” for that week. We then have the kids stick them on a poster sheet by their name, so they could check and back and easily follow how their drivers were doing. You’ll be surprised how quickly kids pick favorites; my 3 year-old son, for instance, is firmly convinced Scott Dixon will win every single IICS event between now and the end of time (he could be right).
-Take the kids to an INDYCAR event. My kids are 3, 4, and 7. Taking them to a full race is out of the question, but taking them to a day of practice or a test is very practical, especially if you’re anywhere close to where IndyCar runs. For example, this May, I took turns taking the kids to a day of Indy 500 practice. It wasn’t a 3-hour event they had to sit through, but rather something where we could walk around, check out different vantage points, and when they’d had enough, we could leave without taking a hit on unused race tickets. Even for practice, IndyCars are inherently cool, and there’s plenty of on-track action to make it memorable.
-Hit up YouTube and online media! Between INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series teams, and individual drivers, there are a ton of great clips online. I’ve shown my children Ed Carpenter’s last-minute win at Kentucky dozens of times, the incredible highlights from this year’s Indy 500, not to mention interviews with Pippa Mann and Simona de Silvestro (my girls love them both), the natural humor and hilarity of James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden, as well as entertaining historical clips, such as A.J. Foyt banging on his car with a hammer in the pits (sadly, a few of A.J.’s clips are not for family viewing (Coogan!], which is a shame, because they’re pretty memorable).
-Design/decorate cars together. A little research online reveals a number of race car coloring pages suitable for kids to color. Alternately, our kids designed their own cars, which led to some…interesting color schemes!
-For small children (toddlers or preschoolers), the IZOD IndyCar Series can offer a chance to learn numbers or colors as well. Have the children pick out a specific number or color to identify during the race or event; it really can help with recognition (don’t be surprised if they pick red; many kids will reliably tell you red cars are simply faster than other colors, of course). This can help give even very small children some stake in what’s going on.
-If you are in the Midwest or plan to visit Indianapolis for the race this year, consider joining the IMS Kids Club. For $25, kids get a personalized “Kid-dential” membership card and lanyard, a t-shirt, a backpack full of goodies, free admission to Indy 500 practice and qualification sessions, and much more! Plus, they’ll be able to attend Kids Club parties through the year, which are usually a blast.
In the end, it’s all about making memories as a family, and making your family feel like it’s not only spending time together, but that they have a stake in what’s happening on the track. Some of my most unforgettable memories from being a kid include Rick Mears waving to me during the 500 Festival Parade, and watching him race at Indy year after year with my dad and grandpa. Now, as a dad myself, I have a chance to pass those types of memories on to my children. Now let’s just hope I don’t have to explain to them exactly what Will Power was doing with his finger gestures anytime soon…
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.