Get ready for two mind-bending paradoxes that came into focus for me while watching the Circus Music Intensive IndyCar Long Beach race yesterday.
First, let’s review the Festival of Carbon Fiber at Long Beach. Cue the circus music …
Now, the paradoxes.
Road/Street Racing Paradox #1: Goofy, amateurish, ridiculous driving that causes contact/crashes on road-and-street courses is generally viewed as adding excitement to the race.
No? Check the fan blogs. (Many in my left, green sidebar) Low-yellow, low-contact St. Pete was some version of “lackluster” but high-contact, high-yellow Long Beach was (or will be) deemed more exciting and had a sweetheart of a winner. Whereas I thought St. Pete was a good example of the IndyCar twisty product (and therefore somewhat surprised by the B- to C+ grades it was given) and am conflicted about Long Beach.
Hence, the paradox. Road/street racing is held up by many as racing that requires more driver skill than oval racing (in general), the paradox is that the lack of skill (which some fans say they dislike) amps the perceived excitement. The paradox is especially pronounced among those who express disdain for NASCAR’s beating and banging full-contact racing on one hand, then get excited when a brain fade causes a Festival of Carbon Fiber at a street race on the other.
I don’t see this occurrence as hypocrisy, however. The fact that crashes on road courses seems to get people fired up leads right into …
Road/Street Racing Paradox #2: Despite being TOTALLY different forms of racing, fans find IndyCar’s road/street racing exciting for the same reason (at least in part) that fans find NASCAR packed-intensive plate track racing exciting: random things can happen.
The thrill of plate racing in NASCAR (Daytona, Talladega) is that cars run around the track in a big pack creating a situation where anything can happen. The Big One (crash) can take out half the field. A mid-pack driver can chose the correct lane and find him or herself in the lead at the end as much by luck as anything else.
The excitement of the random. Same deal, different racing genre in road/street races. The possibility of contact and stack ups like we had in Long Beach is the great random variable that can shake up the field and cause someone new to win, in this case Mike Conway for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Without Ryan Hunter Reay spearing Josef Newgarden, Conway doesn’t win at Long Beach. That does not mean his victory is hollow. It means he raced the race and took advantage of things that came up in the race and won, which is part of racing. It also causes fans, most definitely including me, to be OK with the crash fest because of the outcome. The ends justify the means, to some extent.
Same deal for a plate track like Talladega. If a Big One takes out half the field and a beloved-yet-winless driver pops out of the lead draft and wins the thing, fans are excited and the Big One is written off as “just one of them racing deals.” And maybe it is.
So, in that way, two extremely dissimilar forms of racing – plate track and twisty – offer similar appeal.
This all can leave fans feeling a little conflicted. At least it can leave me feeling a little conflicted. I love the fact that Conway won at Long Beach, because he’s a cool guy and drives for my boy Ed Carpenter. I’m a fan of Ed and a fan of the underdog and Ed and his team are both. Yay. I was as frothed up about Conway/Carpenter winning as anyone. On the other hand, I hate the crashing. It would have been far more gratifying for me if Conway won in a zero-yellow, flawlessly executed race. Ditto for a plate track. If Danica Patrick pops out of the pack and wins at Talladega after two big ones decimate the field, I’ll pee myself with glee. And I won’t accept the “total fluke” rebuttal, because in some way every winner on a track is a product of luck. But if I had my druthers, I’d have her win Darlington or Martinsville.
Could it be that twisty fans and plate track fans have the love of the random – and acceptance of whatever means required to create the random – in common? HUMAN SACRIFICE … DOGS AND CATS … LIVING TOGETHER … MASS HYSTERIA.
At minimum, it should be that twisty fans and plate track fans understand each other's motivations for viewing said races, and the pot will be slow to call the kettle black.