An interlude with a casual fan

IndyCar commentary — By on March 27, 2010 9:45 am

Yep — I’m about to base an entire blog post on a 15-minute conversation that I had in an airport.

But here’s the thing:  it was a great conversation.  And it provided quite a bit of insight into the potential fan base that us hardcore types don’t necessarily encounter every day.

While on a layover in Atlanta on my way down to St. Pete, I had a couple of hours to kill, so I stopped into a bar for a bite to eat.  My netbook was dying and there weren’t any outlets close by, so I decided instead to dig into my copy of the April issue of RACER Magazine, which happens to be the issue containing Robin Miller’s article on the various chassis design proposals.  The photo spread leading into the article has four photos:  the Swift 33, the red and white Lola, the red Dallara, and the Delta Wing.

I noted another lone traveler sitting to my left, a man who appeared to perfectly fit the definition of the average American.  I later learned that he was from Michigan originally but currently lives in Florida.  He was eating a hamburger and drinking a margarita.

I decided to interrupt his meal and introduce myself.  My first question was whether he’d watched auto racing before.  He’d seen a few races, he replied, but he didn’t watch with regularity.

“But you do know what the Indy 500 is,” I probed further.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he replied.

And really, it’s not often that a demographic falls into your lap like that.

I handed him the magazine open to the page with the four design photos.  “Which of these would make you most likely to have an interest in tuning in to the Indy 500?” I asked.

He thought for a long time before he responded, which I observed with optimism.  When he finally began, his statements were revealing.  He pointed at the DeltaWing and said that he thought that was the car that would be most likely to capture his attention, but he added that he found that fact very interesting because he actually liked the look of the Swift 33 better.  The DeltaWing was the one that stood out for him the most, though, because it was so…

“Different?” I filled in for him as he struggled to find a term.

“Yeah, different,” he confirmed.  “Exactly.”

Sure, this is just one conversation among thousands, but I found it quite telling.  This is what the DeltaWing folks have been selling us on all along as the casual fan’s opinion.  Now that I’ve seen the thought process play out myself, I find that my own view is shifting slightly.  Perhaps we need to be more open-minded about this car than we think.

The best part, though, is that the conversation didn’t stop there.  I tried to let him get back to his meal, but the topic had captured his interest, and he kept asking questions.

He asked what my involvement is with the sport , and I explained and gave him my card.  We chatted a bit about what he knew about racing, and I explained that I was on my way to Florida for a race and provided a few details about it.

“Oh,” he replied.  “Is that Daytona?”  His facial expression turned remorseful as he added, “Sorry, I really don’t know.”

I smiled and explained that it’s actually a street race in St. Petersburg that includes an airport runway as part of the course layout.

He was stunned.  “I didn’t know they did that,” he continued.  “On TV, I’ve only ever seen races on actual racetracks.”

“Well,” I explained, “NASCAR doesn’t race on street courses.  IndyCar is the only top-level form of racing in America that does.”

Suddenly, he had a flood of questions.  Do they just set up barricades on actual city streets?  Where do people sit?  How does it all work?

Who knew that street racing, the scourge of the ovals-only crowd, could be so novel and attention-grabbing?

But the best question he asked was the one at the very end.

“What time did you say that race was on, again?  I might have to check that out.”

Maybe we can win them over, folks — one random airport conversation at a time.

(And I’m glad I’m confident that Sunday’s race will be as exciting as I told him it would be.)

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