The United States has two seasons; ‘Football Season’ and ‘Waiting for Football to Comeback Season’. But with the latter there are stages within the off-season. the stages start the day after the Super Bowl with the Reaction Stage, where we take it all in and reflect that the football season is inevitably over. Followed by the hysterical Mock Stage where the whole world tries to guess the order of the upcoming draft, as endlessly hopeless as it is, culminating in a never dull three days of college-player picks. Then begins the Experimental Stage of the season where we all go our separate ways and try to figure out how we’re going to fill our time until football is relevant again.
Right now, the Experimental Stage is weighing heavily upon like a saddle on a horse. It’s the Experimental Stage because we experiment with sports on the side that don’t satisfy our hungers quite the same as the NFL season does. Eventually, our experiments either fail or expire bringing us back to Anxiety Stage of the season with the NFL Preseason in August until season’s end.
The month of May is prime Experimental Stage time! May is the equivalent to sports following experimentation’s as January first is to gym-membership start ups. Sports fans look all over for things to fill the calendars with black X’s before its time to break the pads and pigskin back out. The Filibusters come in all types of exotic forms; lacrosse, bowling, International soccer, hot-dog eating contest etc. One of the sports-levy systems that we treat ostentatiously is the the tracks for some good OLD-fashioned racin’! Mainly, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500.
The Derby and the 500 are like grapefruit and pumpkin flavored beers, they’re cute for a little while but at the end of the day you know you aren’t stocking the fall-out shelters with the stuff. The events are expendable and are simply just a natural distraction from the fact that we don’t have a fantasy line-up to attend to this week, that our NFL teams have made their selections and are just as eager as us for the season to kick-off and the saddening reality that most of us don’t know what to do with our weekends when there’s no football games on! So instead, we dive-in to these experimental sports that keep us entertained as long as we don’t really have to invest anything in them like the Indy and Derby. Making them the sports-equivalent to side-romances while the NFL is fighting the off-season war.
Is that fair? Not at all! But, let’s face it, we don’t care about fair during America’s non-football season, unless of course the topic includes NFL rule changes made during that time. It’s not fair that we don’t recognize the struggles and patience one has to have to train a horse to be able to race the great race! It’s not fair that we don’t notice the extreme discipline one has to have to consistently drive 200 miles an hour for 500 miles! It’s not fair that we don’t acknowledge the severe cases of tennis elbow those jockey’s suffer from whipping those over-trained four legged creatures as they sprint around the dirt circle on a year-round cycle. What’s not fair about this the most is that we pander to them for the short amount of time that we do. Even mostest unfair is that the riders/drivers/trainers/crews/horses have to pretend to enjoy their dimly-lit 15 minutes of fame because it’s all they’re going to get. Still, one of the essentials of a sport that’s climax is in the height of the experimental stage of ‘Waiting’ season is thin skin to pretentious fans.
Most of us, admittedly myself included, fall into this bandwagon fandom that we hope can kill some days on the NFL countdown.
The pretentiousness starts after the NFL draft wraps up when we suddenly care about the most outrageous names we’ve ever heard (examples; American Pharaoh, Fusaichai Pegasus and Paul Jones), that enable our society to dive-in to our other favorite past-time other than football (no not baseball); gambling. The field-talk becomes a common discussion of people asking the same question – “Who’s the smart money on for the Kentucky Derby?” … Do we ever really know or are we just going off the experts advice blindly? Not like us to do that too often (hence Mock Stage season) … Leading us to the running for the roses! Luck fully, the race is an exciting and abrupt two minute dash of fury! Why luck fully? Because any longer and we would all be ousted as the horse-shi**ers we are in terms of knowledge of these events. Once the race is over, the rose-pedals land and the mud is cleaned from the horseshoes, we realize “Damn, we gotta do this again in a couple weeks for the Preakness and maybe again for the Belmont Stakes just in case this same horse claims a stake for the Triple Crown.”
The Triple Crown, another sports title we seem too impressed with considering we don’t care enough about horse racing as a society anymore in the first place. Unless you like flirting with currency that is. While some hope to see whichever bizarrely-named horse we’ve come to love this week take the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to claim the Crown, the rest of us realize this sport just isn’t our cup of julep and hope that we can end our fake interest charades and quit horsing around with animal-races.
Instead, us nay-sayers move on and realize that we still don’t have football to watch and even worse have to end the height of Experimental Stage season with a three-day Memorial Day weekend and nothing to kill the time. So we re-enter the inescapable circle of the track but lay down some pavement, add more metal, times the horses by three hundred and move to Indianapolis for the annual Indy-500 race.
How we celebrate the Indy-500 mirrors a lot of the same story lines for how we celebrate the Super Bowl, only with better weather! Which helps our pretension along with the diversion of an event that we have an easier time-relating to.
Some of us actually care about the results and what goes into winning the Indianapolis 500 but most of us don’t, doppleganging how we approach the Super Bowl. Nothing worse in the NFL season than when you realize your team won’t make the Big Bowl and you’ll have to root for one of two teams that you don’t necessarily like, but it’s still not like you’re going to skip it entirely. You’re going to watch, and even try and find some reason to pick a side whether it’s the colors, players or personal player stories you like. The same goes for the “Greatest Spectacle in NOT Football!” Do you actually know or care about who individually wins the race? No, instead we might choose a driver by personality/interest story, the brands they drive for, or if their car features out favorite/lucky numbers.
It’s a cultural event, at the end of the day the Indy and the Super Bowl are just excuses to have a get together drink some beer; eat some chili (Super Bowl) or some grilled meats (Indy 500) and enjoy each other’s company with the events being least common factors among mass groups of people. Essentially, the Indy is just a practice run of our Super Bowl parties with a grill and a MANDATORY day-off thrown in.
We care about the same basic things between the two events if we tweak them a bit. We watch the anthem and pre-race ceremonies as we would the pre-kickoff ceremonies. There is an added attention to who is singing the anthem and equal chills to the roaring engine sound following, “START YOUR ENGINES” as there is to the sight of the Kick-off’s generated stadium camera flashes. The Indy’s crashes are like the Super Bowl’s commercials and every unplanned bathroom break we force ourselves to take leaves us hoping we don’t miss any of either. Photo-finishes and game-winners are what we live for. We pray for crazy finishes so that we have something to talk about until the next football season arrives.
If you’re a big follower of Derby races or Indy-car races, where you watch every race every weekend, follow the tours and attend to the track on the regular this blog post is not meant to offend. It is simply a plea for us to at least realize our Experimental Stage sport lusts like the Indy and Derby are nothing more than experiments that ultimately comes out to the same result; it’s no NFL! This existential experiment doesn’t only fail with Horse Racing and the Indy-car Series an other off-the-beaten-track sports. The outcome is the same with NCAA/NBA basketball, MLS soccer, MLB baseball and even MMA fights, they just don’t compare and fall into the file of things we fall-back on when we put away the raw-hides.
This post is meant for us to reflect on what we’re really doing.
We’re patronizing horse-racing and stock-car racing. Is it wrong? Not necessarily. At the end of the day the racing templates presumably realize that to take offense of our actions would be pinching the nozzle that fuels the sport’s relevance. Is it fair? Not at all. But let’s be honest this whole post was just an attempt to fill an X on the calendar until the day comes when ‘Waiting for Football to Comeback Season’ ends and we can get back to the important things that don’t matter!
Still, let me offer my condolences for all of us in the sports spectating world to the die-hards of the tracks that follow Indy-Car/Stock-Car/Horse Racing fervently.
“I’m personally sorry that I intrude only but once month of the year for an experiment that I already know the outcome to race-fans. Please put up with my burden for the next few days until I can move onto something else I don’t really care about and realize that I know the ridiculousness of my actions and feel like a horse’s pa-toot in the process. Thank you for sharing your sports with us and we will all be out of your way soon. Please just try to understand our motives and reasoning for jumping on the bandwagon.”