All the pretty hypocrites
The origin of the word hypocrite goes back to the Greek word hypokrites, a stage actor; one who pretends to be what he is not. And racing is full of these actors, these hypocrites who mouth platitudes and wring their hands over the plight of IndyCar. These people who know best (and there are always people who know best) are ready and willing to solve all of IndyCar’s problems, real or perceived.
After the multi-car crash at Las Vegas, the hue and cry to end pack racing rose from everywhere: the media, the fans, and the drivers. The only voices that ring true are the ones of the drivers. There is an old adage about a ham and egg breakfast: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. The drivers are committed. Their opinions are truly the ones that matter. And we can assume they do not prefer the high-banked 1.5 mile ovals in the current low-horsepower, high-downforce configuration. But they race them because that’s where the race is on a particular weekend. They do this most dangerous of jobs for one simple reason: it’s the job they love to do.
Are the fans hypocrites? Do we expect the drivers to accept an unreasonable level of danger simply because we enjoy the spectacle and the risk? The answer to both questions is absolutely. And how often have you heard this justified with a comment along the lines of “The drivers understand the risk” or “If they don’t want to race there, then they can find another job.” And if not these quotes, then variations on the theme. Of course the fans are hypocrites. Most of us would never strap into a race a car a first time, or a second time if we did it a first time. If our jobs were unduly dangerous, we would be howling to any government agency or union that would listen. We really don’t have a horse in this particular race. The drivers should have some input in where and how they race. And remember, I am an ovalista. I want IndyCar to find a way to make it fun, fast, and safer on the small ovals. The question for the ones who do know best is how to do it. And the fans are not the ones who know best. In this case, the customer might be wrong.
And how about the media? Don’t get me wrong, the majority of IndyCar media gets it right. Of course there are not too many of them left. And that’s a problem. Marshall Pruett is a steely-eyed missile man. He researches, he reports, he informs. And Curt Cavin from the Indy Star is a daily source of info in his blog. He’s wired in. He may be the last of a dying breed: an assigned reporter for IndyCar coverage on a daily newspaper. What can I say about Robin Miller? IndyCar coverage would miss his passion, knowledge, and even his opinions if he wasn’t around. Of course, we have “Miller’s Mailbag” and his Greek chorus of Chicken Littles on Speedtv.com, but I read it religiously. People may disagree with his negativity, but he has both an opinion and a platform. Can you name another major national publication with a dedicated IndyCar section on its website? We ought to be happy that someone still cares. What about Versus and ABC? Again, I’m happy to have any coverage, but let’s face it, the TV reporters, no matter how good or bad, are just shills. Their raison d’etre is to attract viewers and increase ratings.
But the media members and outlets that gall me are the ones that deign to pontificate after the fact. They jump on auto racing with both feet and condemn the series, the tracks, and the fans for being part of a brutal and deadly sport. Do these same reporters condemn NASCAR for pack racing at Daytona and Talledega? Do these same TV networks use the possibility of the “Big One” as a lead in? And I hold a particular distaste for the reporters who do not follow IndyCar in particular or racing in general but use a tragedy like Las Vegas as a platform to get their names attached to a national story by vilifying a series, a promoter, and a track. Hypocrites all.
The public has a very short memory. History has shown us this same picture before at Indy: the1958 first lap multi-car accident in Turn Three that took the life of Pat O’Connor, the 1966 first lap multi-car accident, the 1973 first lap accident that sent Salt Walther spinning and spewed fuel into the stands, and the 1982 first lap accident with Kevin Cogan, Mario Andretti, and AJ Foyt. And we know there will be another. We know that we cannot legislate complete safety into the sport. We close our eyes to the fact that IndyCar has not seen its last multi-car accident or its last fatality. This dark knowledge sits deep inside us as we defend this sport we love. And that may be the most hypocritical of all.