Monday, July 17, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Hate Kills

Team Penske did something it had never done before at Toronto. A young Canadian gave his home crowd something to cheer for and another young Canadian gave some Canadian expats in Britain something to cheer for. A second-generation French driver picked up his maiden victory. The rain didn't show up before the checkered flag at either Toronto or Silverstone. Jim Clark had someone join him at the table. Porsche picks up where it left off at Le Mans. Sebastian Vettel got dizzy. Sébastien Buemi kept the Formula E championship lead despite not even showing up for the Brooklyn race weekend. I didn't know the World Touring Car Championship was in competition this week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hate Kills
For the longest time, we were told hate is good. It didn't matter what series it was. Hate is good. People started tuning out and we were told these series needed hate, regardless if it was NASCAR or IndyCar. The belief was drivers were too chummy with one another and the solution was to go back to when drivers didn't get along and didn't socialize away from the track. All these series needed was a little hate to get people back through the doors and in front of the television screens.

This was really a concept that bloomed just over a decade ago. NASCAR was stilling flying high but had a slight descent in altitude and the turbulence shook enough people that they were spewing solutions. IndyCar was split and once reunification happened everyone was looking for a way to get the series back to the heights the series previously obtained before the split. Corporate sponsorship was cozy in both.

There have been rivalries each series has tried to push for years but none really stuck and none were really believable. In NASCAR, you had Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards but that was mostly for who was fifth best as Jimmie Johnson was winning championship after championship after championship. It was akin to the Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks in the NBA during the 1990s. It was fun but regardless of who came out on top in that matchup the Chicago Bulls ended up winning the title. There have been other clashes but most have been flashes in the pan. Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano vs. Denny Hamlin, Logano vs. Tony Stewart.

IndyCar has an entire campaign devoted to promoting rivalries but none of them mean much. It tried to make any little moment into something more than it was. It tried to make contact between James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Muñoz into something but that was never going to stick. Other than Dario Franchitti and Will Power battling for the title for three consecutive seasons and having their dust ups, there is no rivalry of substance in IndyCar.

You can't just make people care about a rivalry and a rivalry has to be for something more than an occasional battle between drivers who are mostly in the middle of the pack. A rivalry needs to be a week in and week out occurrence at the front of the field. See Prost vs. Senna, Schumacher vs. Häkkinen, Hamilton vs. Rosberg and Bourdais vs. Tracy.

While the drivers don't seem to hate one another there is one group that takes the hate seriously. That happens to be the fans and it is killing the series in American motorsports.

The American fan base bought into hate is good and decided to hate everything. The Busch brothers became the black hats of NASCAR. People pick apart reasons to hate Kasey Kahne. In IndyCar, all the hate seems to be reserved for Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, aero kits and ABC's coverage but the beloved is few and far between. Even in IMSA hate seems to win out whether it is about prototypes, BOP, driver ratings, you name it. Fans end up hating more than they love and it becomes a toxic environment that leaves people ready to get out and stops plenty from even bothering in the first place.

Beloved drivers are leaving soon. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is in his final full season of Cup competition. Hélio Castroneves appears to be in the same boat in IndyCar and Tony Kanaan doesn't have that much time left. All that is going to be left are drivers people hate just to hate them and the "ok crowd" of drivers that don't draw strong opinions out of most. Fans are partial to one driver and when that driver goes so do the supporters.

The Earnhardt, Jr. crowd isn't going to find a substitute. As much as people hope the 60% of the grandstand in Earnhardt, Jr. gear will flock to one of his disciples, whether it be Martin Truex, Jr. or Brad Keselowski, most won't and most don't want to. Most will see it as the final nail in the coffin for a series that hasn't had their best interest in mind for close to two decades and were only hanging on because of the man in the #88.

I am not sure it can be reversed. People love to hate. If you are a NASCAR fan and have hated Kyle and Kurt Busch or Jimmie Johnson for over a decade you aren't going to make a 180 on them now and become even modest supporters and maybe buy a hat and if people don't give youngsters a chance than series are going to die. More fans are leaving each year than are coming in despite NASCAR and IndyCar both having strong waves of young drivers already in place for the next 10-15 years. If a talented young driver pool isn't enough to keep people interested than I don't know what can be done.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix.

Sam Bird swept the New York ePrix.

The #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the team's second consecutive victory. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won in LMP2, the team's second consecutive victory and third in four races this season. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli won in GTE-Am.

Kyle Kaiser swept the Indy Lights races from Toronto. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Charles Leclerc and Nicholas Latifi split the Formula Two races from Silverstone. George Russell and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 races.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR race from Loudon. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Yann Ehrlacher and Norbert Michelisz split the WTCC races from Argentina.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Brickyard 400.
The NASCAR Truck Series runs the only race that matters all year, Eldora and it will be on Fox Business Channel.
IMSA takes GTLM and GTD to Lime Rock Park.
Red Bull Ring hosts the European Le Mans Series.
The DTM heads to Russia.
Super GT heads to Sportsland SUGO.