It's time for a confessional.
I was not just happy to see the huge expanses of empty seats for Sunday's Brickyard 400. I was viciously happy.
I make a pretense of being objective and trying to see both sides of an issue. It's a fiction I prize, because it helps me to put to the back of my mind the fact that, just like every other fan, I have loyalties which spur biased opinions, hidden grudges that turn my thoughts vituperative, and a distinct lack of equanimity.
I don't like admitting it. I want to be a better fan; even though my days as a so-called "real journalist" are far behind me, the Holy Grails of objectivity and even-handedness were such a habitual part of my approach to the sport that every time I give in to my passion, I feel guilty.
But sometimes guilt can only be erased by clearing the air, so count this as my mea culpa.
The reason I was viciously happy about the emptiness of the grandstands at Indianapolis this weekend has nothing to do with my appreciation of or love for the series involved. When I say I am a racing omnivore, I do so with a clear conscience. More than that, I have spent more time in the paddocks of the Grand Am and NASCAR touring series than I have in IndyCar, and I still count many of the people involved therein as friends.
My schadenfreude stemmed more from a deeply-buried indignation of having suffered through the Indy 500's lean years with the echoes of NASCAR fans' smug derision echoing in my ears. Now, I thought in the blackest part of my animal brain, they will see what it's like to have the sport you love laughed at for falling short of hopes and expectations!
Pretty ugly, right? Not to mention hypocritical, considering that outside of the 500 and maybe Iowa Speedway, IndyCar has absolutely no moral foundation for gloating about attendance, much less ratings (hello, 194,000 viewers of the Edmonton Indy!).
The analytical side of my brain, unfortunately, had absolutely no control over my visceral side yesterday. I was infuriated by eventual Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson's petulant tweet about being awakened by the traditional IMS cannon the morning of the race. I was enraged that Johnson would sully the hallowed bricks at the start-finish line with a series of burnout donuts (rage that only compounded the sense of violation I felt when Brad Keselowski did the same thing the day prior in a minor-league race).
Then, the ultimate indignity - the way the media fawned over Johnson as if he had the right to be included in the IndyCar fan's Pantheon of Sainthood, the four-time Indy-500 winners' club. Are you kidding me? Jimmie FRIGGING Johnson in the same breath as Rick Mears, Al Unser, and A.J. Foyt? Come on! Johnson and the other four-time NASCAR winner at IMS, Jeff Gordon, are an entire Brickyard 400 short of the 2,000 miles that those hallowed heroes completed on their way to immortality! HERESY!!
It's bad enough, I reasoned (har), that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - once the site of an annual pilgrimage that set the world abuzz - had decided to sell itself to pretty much any series that wanted to run there. What's next? Hell, maybe next year they'd invite the local bomber stock racers to tool around the oval!
Oh yes, my friends, yesterday I wallowed in a cesspool of complete boorishness and misguided sentimentality. My racing cathedral was being used for some ridiculous redneck farting contest, and everyone seemed to be treating it like a Christmas mass! Hell, they were only a network away from BOOGITYING my childhood Mecca!!
Then I slept on it.
When I woke up this morning, I felt silly. Stupid. Churlish. Reality crashed down on me like a piano in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
I'm ashamed of myself, friends. My security blanket, which had already been in tatters thanks to a group of people who ditched reason for greed and ego, had been taken away from me, and like a child I had thrown myself to the floor and screamed and cried and kicked until I was red-faced.
What's more, my reactions did a great disservice to people who didn't deserve it. Just because Jimmie Johnson didn't behave the way I wanted him to doesn't mean that he was desecrating the Speedway. And just because he didn't win four Indy 500s doesn't mean his accomplishment of winning four Brickyard 400s is a triviality. He is a genuine superstar for this generation, and if I believe he doesn't measure up to the icons of mine, that only reflects badly on me - not him.
And so what if the storied Brickyard now plays host to a Nationwide Series race? When, in my outrage, I cast about trying to think of other great venues which were not sullied by less-prestigious pretenders to the trophy... I couldn't think of any. In fact, my perspective had been warped by growing up in an era when Indy was only open for business for one month a year. That was the way things were when I was learning about racing, so that's the way it should be forever - that's what my brain was telling me.
Basically what I discovered about myself was that I was being an inflexible, sullen, prickly little douchecanoe bastard about things. My glass house lay in shards around my feet. I had used my passion as an excuse to descend to a place I shouldn't have been in.
It is a difficult thing to be able to suppress one's darker nature for a more enlightened perspective - that is, in fact, why the pursuit of doing so is so worthwhile. I hit a speed bump in that pursuit, and it is up to me to get back on the road.
So, to all of my friends and fellow fans, I apologize. To my friends among the NASCAR fandom, keep the faith - things will get better. For those in the racing series who competed at Indy this weekend, congratulations and kudos for what you accomplished. I hope you remember and appreciate the experience as much as I love my racing home. I also hope you come back for more.
After all, isn't passion always better when it is shared?