Monday, May 30, 2005

Indy 500 Blogging

The big news in motorsports all this month was that for the first time ever a woman had a chance to win the Indy 500, and, on Sunday, she almost did. Danica Patrick's strong finish of 4th, ended up justifying the publicity blitz centered around her. She managed to live up to the hype, which is pretty amazing, since there hasn't been this much hype in the context of an Indy race in a long time.

It's kind of ironic, though, that the Indy Racing League and ABC Sports are trying to halt the declining viewership of the 500 by playing the diversity card. After all, its partly the "diversity" of the recent Indy 500 starting fields that has led to the declining ratings. But I guess the diversity brought in by an attractive, 23-year-old, American woman interests American TV-audiences more than the diversity brought in by Brit Dan Wheldon (who won yesterday) or Brazilian Helio Castroneves (who won in 2001 and 2002).

Although I was happy to see Danica do well, and while I understand that, in the context of the constructed media-spectacle-world of professional sports, her success at the big race is "historic", I was a little put off not so much by the amount of the hype but the kind of it. In the New York Times, Dave Caldwell writes:

Patrick, who has long black hair and weighs 100 pounds, has been marketed by the I.R.L. as an ingénue, posing her for more glamour media-guide photos than in her driving suit. But she can also drive fast.


And that's how she's come across in all her media appearances: she's attractive, young, stylish, etc.--the hot co-ed next door--which is fine, until you stop to think that Indy racing is dangerous. Bruno Junqueira is in surgery today because of a crash during yesterday's race--he "injured two vertebrae". And, in another crash, Larry Foyt fractured his spine. Ouch.

I got a little queasy at the thought of Danica--playing the lovely, spunky young heroine-of -a-feel-good-sports-movie role--getting a concussion, chipping her spine, or worse. It's one thing for the Indy Racing League and ABC to use Danica's sex appeal to sell a product, but it's another when the product that they're trying to sell could maim her (considerably hurting said sex appeal).

The IRL and ABC's pushing of the Danica-story wasn't the only thing about their broadcast that smelled of desperation. They opened the show with a 5 minutes video done in the style of the recent Sin City movie--black and white race footage with those trademarked red splotches thrown in, pseudo-hardboiled voice-overs introducing the drivers, Danica's sexy silhouette standing over a rain-drenched city skyline--that had me scratching my head. It was bizarre and kind of sad. Someone seems to have sold ABC on the idea that a Sin City homage would help the Indy 500 appeal to a young, hip audience. But it seems awfully wrongheaded to use a movie known mostly for sex and violence to introduce an event whose popularity has to do more with courage, excitement, family, and--the big one--tradition. It's as if they're trying to position the IRL as the hipper, sexier alternative to NASCAR. The whole thing was a striking example of the identity crisis that has really crippled Indy Racing's appeal to American audiences.

American open-wheel racing used to be considered much more prestigious than stock car racing, which was seen as being for southern rednecks only. But the big American open-wheel racing series--CART--did nothing to stop the best young American open-wheel drivers--like Jeff Gordon--from going to NASCAR, and filled their cars with Europeans and Latin Americans. Not surprisingly, while NASCAR's popularity grew, American open-wheel racing's fell. And the Indy 500, open-wheel's crown-jewel event, lost its former prestige. It was, after all, supposed to showcase the best race car drivers in America, but as soon as Jeff Gordon, America's best race car driver, decided not to participate in it, it lost a little of its luster. The Indy 500 now feels like an also ran to the Daytona 500, NASCAR's big event race.

4 comments:

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Sports Junky said...

I agree,

I love Nascar Racing. and recently I have bought stock in it. Not like real stock on Wall street, but a stock market that is strictly for sports.

You have seen it? Its pretty cool. You buy issues for your favorite teams and you make real money. Not like a fake stock simulator. I cash out Dividends each time the team wins. Also I can sell my team stock when the price goes up.

check it out if something like this interests you.
heres a link http://allsportsmarket.com
you can log in and check it out for free..

They just released IPO'S for Nascar Racing this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

Keep up the good work on your blog!
-Erik

Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I think I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw him in a car lot yesterday, which is really strange because the last time I saw him was in the supermarket.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new lcd tv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a lcd tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger.

Then I'm gonna go round and see Michael Jackson and we're gonna watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on the lcdtv in the back of my Hummer.

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)