I remember it like it was yesterday, my first time in an Indy car grandstand all those many years ago. (Too many years ago. No, I’m not going to tell you how many years ago.)
I was 12. My dad was an auto worker (still is, in fact). At the time, he was a supervisor in the paint shop at the old Jeep plant in my hometown suburb just outside Toronto.
PPG, an automotive paint supplier, was the title sponsor of CART at that time, and back in those plum days they used to go all out to entertain local clients at what was then the Molson Indy Toronto — grandstand tickets for the entire family, a hospitality tent that seemed to go on forever where food was always fresh and booze flowed freely, and swag up to your eyeballs. I’m sure my father still has closets full of those old trucker-style PPG caps that hipsters started wearing ironically a couple of years ago.
Our seats were what would now be called silver-class in a grandstand on the outside of turn 1. (That seating area has been gone for years, which is a shame. It was a fantastic spot to watch from, second only to turn 3.) But there were some contacts of my dad’s who had gotten even better seats in the golds, and they were quite happy to sneak a budding fan in to get an even closer look at the action in pit lane.
We wandered around the paddock and got within arm’s reach of some of the sport’s greatest legends. Mario Andretti was still driving back then. So was AJ Foyt. I had no idea who they were yet, nor did I know how deeply I’d regret that fact years later.
The memory of adrenaline coursing through my entire body when those engines were first fired in front of me in person has stayed with me for a lifetime.
Had my parents needed to pay full price for our tickets — or even half price — it’s very likely that I would never have ended up there that day at all.
So, when I saw the news that Milwaukee IndyFest and the Grand Prix of Baltimore have lowered their junior admission prices significantly, it made my sometimes-grinchy heart grow those proverbial three sizes. (Baltimore has really stepped up — an adult who purchases a general admission ticket can bring a youth 12 or under along for free!)
Nothing is better for the long-term future of the sport than encouraging parents to make race weekends a family affair. And with the release of Turbo coming up this summer, Baltimore in particular is in prime position to capitalize on renewed interest in IndyCar and give kids a great chance to check out what open-wheel racing is all about.
IndyCar needs to do everything in its power to encourage as many events on the schedule as possible to follow suit. It might mean a little less ticket revenue right now — but then, it might mean a bit more if more families are able to afford to make an day of it. In a struggling economy, an idea with merit is worth a shot.
And even if it does cut admission income slightly, such a move can be considered an excellent investment in the sport’s future. If I may say so, I believe I’m living proof: If you trap ‘em young, you may very well keep ‘em forever.
(By the way, that’s my daughter in the photo above chatting with Pippa Mann at the Mid-Ohio race last year. We’re getting her started young, too.)