Friday, July 29, 2011

Personality Is King

This week, I thought we’d can the Friday Fifteen for the week (not a ton of movement after Edmonton, really), and instead focus on another subject.

Around a week ago, somewhere between someone arguing against the SAFER barrier and the normal talk about schedules and seats, I asked members at Track forum to answer a survey about the #1 reason they cheered for a driver. They could vote for one and only one top reason for cheering for a particular driver:

Here were the results as of the time I’m posting this:

Personality: 49.57%
Talent: 19.66%
Other: 14.54%
Nationality: 9.40%
Team Affiliation: 5.98%
Sponsorship: 0.85%

What I think is interesting is that for all the debate about whether or not a driver belongs on the series on “talent” or wanting more Americans in open wheel, it seems that just about half the respondents saw personality as most important. I think in a lot of ways, it mirrors how the fan/driver relationship has really evolved in the past few years. It’s not that these other things are important, but that we have a chance to hear from our drivers and see a bit more of what they choose to share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. We can catch up with Pippa Mann, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, Martin Plowman, or any one of the multitude of other drivers that have elected to use that medium. It gives us a sense of connection, and I think a greater sense of the human aspect of each driver.

Pippa has been an expert at showcasing personality online.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Of course, some would argue, online personas can be a façade, which is quite true. But with IndyCar being one of the most fan-friendly sports out there in terms of access, I can go to a race and have a pretty good shot at meeting at least a couple of drivers.

As an example, as regular readers know, my daughter has been able to meet Pippa Mann a couple of times and thinks the world of her, because she took a few minutes to talk to her and feel special. She was happy she made the Indy 500, and always wants to know what’s going on with her. When Alex Tagliani took a few moments to compliment her and take a few pics with her, that was a fan connection well made.

TK, Hinch, Pippa—all these drivers have distinct personalities, and moreover, they feel real to us. They feel like authentic people, if that makes sense, not some cipher mumbling into the mic after another finish. I don’t even think “personality” has to mean a particularly pleasant personality at times—AJ Foyt was idolized all through his rampages through the years, and with Scott Dixon calling drivers out and dropping some curse bombs here and there, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the attention he’s been receiving.

I do think there has to be a balance—you can’t have 100% personality and 0% talent, nor the other way around. As an example, Nigel Mansell had all the talent in the world, but I never liked his attitude, and couldn’t cheer for him. Conversely, Milka Duno was an absolute sweetheart and wonderful with fans, but a total embarrassment on the road courses.

One of the great things about IndyCar is that you can find a valid reason to cheer for talent, nationality, team, or any one of a dozen other descriptors. But it seems like for many fans, personality is #1, even if talent and these other items still factor. Personality might be king, but it doesn’t reign alone.

1 comment:

  1. I am a big fan of the Andretti family. I grew up at the very end of Mario's career and watched Micheal through the 90's and now that Marco is racing and we are almost the exact age (I think we are about a month apart in age) I can't help but to continue cheering on AAS. I even root for Conway and RHR at each race. I would cheer on Danica but she seems to a thorn in Micheal's side. While a lot of drivers have been doing a ton of complaining lately, Danica has, by far, the worst complaining record in all of Indycar. RHR, Conway, and Andretti all have decent personalities but they a little cocky/arrogant, Conway not so much but he is a little bland. So when it comes to supporting drivers I guess I fall into the "other" category.

    Of course I like Oriol, Hinch, Justin Wilson and TK. I can't bring myself to cheer on TCGR or Penske because how can you cheer for teams that already consistently win? Where is the fun in that?