This summer at Mid-Ohio, a trackside friend who knew my story of becoming an open wheel racing fan as a pre-teen girl asked me, “How do I get my daughter to become a fan?” I didn’t have a very good answer, but it gave me something to think about for a while. On the surface, I seem to be fairly stereotypical: 21-year-old Caucasian female college student, watches Netflix, loves coffee, and can’t survive without an iPhone. There’s nothing out of the ordinary to be noticed, until the odd sentence inevitably slips out of my mouth: “I’m an IndyCar fan.” I typically get a lot of sideways looks, blanks stares, and series’ of questions. When I think about how I became a fan, sometimes it even surprises me too, that is, until I consider the things I enjoyed as a kid.
Having grown up with two older brothers meant that any attempt at bonding generally happened over video games. They played whatever games they could get their hands on, but the only ones I cared to join in on where the ones that involved any type of racing. GT, NASCAR, Snowboarding, and even Frogger— I was into anything that involved competitive speed, and the possibility of edging someone out at the very last second.
I also grew up in a competitive household. Family games were more than a laughing matter; they were a fight to earn the rights to being the self-proclaimed “best.” In fact, sometimes games ended prematurely because we were so invested in winning that someone (usually I) inevitably got upset and threw a tantrum. My mom had me try out a variety of activities including piano and ballet, but it was Irish Dance that I latched onto. That same drive I had that motivated me to beat my brothers in games was magnified considerably throughout my years as a competitive dancer, while in later years I would draw inspiration from IndyCar drivers.
My dad’s announcement to my brother of his 17th birthday present was the product of a whim: Two tickets to the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500. No one avidly watched the race growing up, and no one ever uttered a word of interest in attending. It was simply an idea that popped into his head. I wasn’t disappointed that I would be spending my 12th birthday weekend away from home; rather, I was interested in the event, although I hadn’t realized it yet.
Friday before race day, we packed up the minivan and headed out to Cincinnati to stay with some relatives. I remember hearing the hype about Danica Patrick that weekend, my family talking about how she could win, and the competitive drive within me instantly snapping on like a light switch. I was a 12-year-old girl into all things pink, and I was all about cheering on the potential first woman to win the Indy 500. Although she didn’t make history as the first female winner, she made something else happen. She turned me into a fan.
But something else sparked the fire that same night. When my dad and brother got back from the race, sometime after dark, they told us all about their experience. I remember sitting on the floor with the recorded race on in the background, while they were sitting on the couch. They told us all about the sights and sounds of the day, but two in particular stood out to me: “They went so fast,” and “It was so loud.” My brother did his best to describe the blistering speed and ear-shattering zoom of the cars, but to no avail. In the end, he conceded that nothing else on earth could even compare. When I looked back at the TV, I saw the cars racing and wondered what it was really like to see how fast they go, and what that sound felt like in person. I wanted to know, and I wanted to experience it for myself.
When the time came to renew his tickets, I was given the opportunity to join in. The 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 would take place on my 13th birthday, and I didn’t need to think to say yes. Little did I know that this race in 2006 would ignite the fire that sparked in that little girl one year earlier, and little did I know that the same fire would still be burning just as strong in this same 21-year-old girl today.
So, how did I end up being such a huge fan of racing? Maybe it was by accident. Maybe it was because my brothers played a lot of racing-related video games. Maybe it was because of my dad’s random idea to take my brother to the Indy 500 one year. Or, maybe I was just born to love it.