Thursday, April 12, 2012

INDYCAR With The Family: A Primer

One of my goals this year was to spend more time with my family in regards to INDYCAR. My wife has been to races with me, and rates as at least a casual fan. My children (7, 4, and 3) all like INDYCAR (although the attention span isn’t always there), and have accompanied me on many trips to the Speedway. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet drivers, and the kids all have their favorites at this point.

Honestly, I didn’t want to again be one of those dads who sits on the couch for half of each Saturday or Sunday, watching racing and shutting my family out, especially when they seem to enjoy it as well. So this year, I went to some lengths to get the family involved each and every race weekend. Below are a few of the keys to making this season's INDYCAR experience family friendly:

Know Your Drivers
One of the most confusing things for a fledgling fan of any age is learning which driver is in what car, what number belongs to a respective driver, and basically who the heck everyone is. What I did this season was create a large poster that’s taped to our pantry door in the kitchen. It lists each driver, color-coded to their usual car color, and also brightly lists their engine, number, and team. Obviously, it’s less use to my two younger ones, but my oldest daughter seems to be doing much better with knowing and learning the identities of the various drivers. We're also using it to track wins and podiums: the winner gets a gold star, 2nd place a silver star, and 3rd place a green one.

Give A Sense Of Investment 
Each Friday, we take the spotter’s guide for that weekend’s race, cut out the various car/driver illustrations, and shake them up in a hat. Everyone gets to draw 2 drivers, and stick them to a sheet we have on the fridge. Saturday morning, everyone gets to pick one additional (non-random) driver. I know I’m weird, but I sort of enjoy announcing the picks in my best Loud Track Announcer voice as they are drawn out of the hat (my kids will be hugely embarrassed of me in a few years, if they aren't already). If one of your three drivers places the highest, you’re that week’s winner, and get to put a star sticker by your name. If you have kids, you know they will just about knife-fight a man for a star sticker.

Our family's contest board, pre-St. Pete.
I am sad to report that I still have a goose egg for 2012, but hope springs eternal. Meanwhile, my wife and oldest daughter are comfortably schooling the rest of us with their picks. Having someone to pull for is big in racing, and feeling like you have a stake in the action is even bigger.

Watch Together 
My kids love YouTube videos. I cannot tell you have many times we’ve watched whatever the most recent video meme has been, clips from Adventure Time, or (in the cause of my daughters), kittens that sleep/meow/fight/play adorably. So, it was only natural that we would watch INDYCAR videos, eventually.

We’ve watched everything from Ed Carpenter’s victory at Kentucky to AJ Foyt banging on his car with a hammer (my oldest daughter’s impression of AJ is yelling “BANG BANG BANG” while pretending to bash on a car, if that tells you anything).

For the race itself, the kids are still too little to have the attention span for the entire race, but it’s cool to see them watch in fits and starts. I’ve also enjoyed watching the races with my wife, which pretty much means she’s a keeper. It’s a lot more rewarding to share what you love with loved ones then cloistering yourself off for 4-5 hours each Sunday afternoon.

Activities, Activities, Activities 
From visiting the IMS Museum to making cards for their favorite drivers, the kids enjoy INDYCAR as a hobby in their own way. My daughters love drawing, my son likes to watch the cars in person, and when they ask about a driver or a race, I try to answer their questions or talk on their level. It’s important not to force any of it on them, but they really seem to enjoy many parts that make up the INDYCAR experience.

The boy has good taste.
Ultimately, INDYCAR is inherently cool, especially when you’re a kid. Roaring engines, bright colors flashing by, friendly, super-cool drivers, and just having fun is what matters. Arguments over engines, owners, rules, or any of the rest of it are a non-issue when you’re four years old. We’re also fortunate that we are fans of a very accessible sport, one that makes it easy to go to a track or event and have your children stand a very good chance of not only seeing an IndyCar driver, but building a lifetime sort of memory through personal interaction.

Am I crazy for being this die-hard of a fan? Probably a little, but everyone has their quirks--mine just happens to be full of awesomesauce. It's not always easy to be a parent and an INDYCAR fan at the same time, but it's definitely made the start of this season the most rewarding yet. Now if we can avoid Will Power's "angry birds" after being wrecked this season, and if we make the kids cover their eyes during GoDaddy commercials, we can work even more on that kid-friendly theme...


  1. D.J. Jordan - @djordan3223April 12, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Great job. Thankfully my wife is almost as crazy about Indycar as I am, and I think iwe have hooked our 6 year old daughter (but she needs a new favorite driver). I took my daughter with me to the test at Indy last week and she enjoyed herself as much as I did. The 2 cars she made mention of was the ABC car & the blue target car. Thanks for the ideas on how to keep the whole family involved, I will use it the week.

    1. agree here except for the 'wife almost as crazy as me part'. Love the pick a driver game each race! will do this weekend!

    2. Awesome! Let me know how it goes, guys!

      My son LOVES the Target cars. He's a big Scott Dixon fan, apparently. The other night he just started shouting his name while we were in a restaurant. Guess he's a Honda man. :)

    3. Family game update:

      We started a family game with Long Beach and followed up w Sao Paulo. Ours is called "Winner, Winner, pickin' dinner!" In which the person who holds the race winner, picks a family dinner location for the 4 of us prior to the next race.

      Our system is as follows:
      1. Print and cut out the spotter's guide of cars for each race and everyone gets to pick their 1 'favorite' driver.
      2. The remainder of the field gets split into 'A' 'B' and 'C' groups according to their starting position and drawn from my son's Indycar hat he got for Christmas.
      3. We draw from the 'A' group first, then 'B', then 'C'.

      'A' group is the first 8 (after our favorite drivers are picked), 'B' is the next 8 starting spots, etc, down through the field.

      Since I am the oldest, I pick last which means I get shafted one or two drivers but they're at the back of the field anyway.

      It has been more fun and popular w my family than I initially expected and since my wife won our first race, she's totally on board with this game now... Will update over time.

  2. David Bolton @davidindycarApril 12, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Enjoyed the article Zach. I have two boys. My oldest is 12 and is a casual fan; my youngest is 8 and he is hooked on IndyCar. My wife, if you can be, is between casual and hooked. My wife has been going to races since she went to her first 500 in 2007. She enjoys going to the races but not necessarily watching them on tv. I just had my youngest at IMS for the Easter Egg Hunt and even though no cars were on track, he loved being at IMS. It's becoming a home away from home. We watch videos on youtube and when Hinch or teams post videos, we watch that as well. It makes the sport so much better when you can get the whole family involved.

    1. Very cool, David. My kids also love going to the Speedway, even when there isn't any on-track action. I think it's because we go there together, visit the museum, take a lap on track, etc.

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  4. Good article Zach. I have three boys, 16, 12 and 11 and I have found they need to grow into it. Where the warning about the why boys don't reach Eagle Scout after 16 applies: sports, cars and girls. It is true on the flip side as an INDYCAR fan. Over the last couple of years my oldest and I have followed INDYCAR more closely each year, while my almost 13 year old is now starting to get interested. I treat it like a heritage, something passed down from my family (went to Indy at age five '68, first race was the second Milwaukee race in '67), and that's why I watch it. If my kids do too, then it is passed on. So don't worry too much about their interest level, because truly you want them to want to be fans, which in turn makes them more devoted to the sport.

    1. Good advice, Jim. They're still young. I'm happy they enjoy it, but don't get too bent out of shape when they want to go do something else for a while. I'm just happy we have fun with it as a family.

  5. Thanks for the advice man. Once took my (former) girlfriend to a race and apparently I wasn't prepared to entertain her too...trying again with my current girlfriend. I'll let you know how it goes.

    1. Best of luck! Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn' least you're trying!