The world of IndyCar received an absolute bombshell yesterday, with Penske Racing announcing Juan Pablo Montoya will be running the #2 car in 2014. I’m thrilled that we’re getting an additional car for next season, and I’m even more thrilled it’s someone I don’t like.
Does that seem strange? I don’t think it is, really. In any sport, having a team to cheer against is almost as important as having a team to cheer for. In basketball, for most of the league, it’s the Miami Heat. In baseball, it’s usually the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, depending on your geographic situation. In football, both college and professional, any number of rivalries—Notre Dame/USC, Ohio State/Michigan--exist that reach the level of extreme animosity when two enemy teams clash.
In IndyCar, I often find myself happy with just about anyone winning. I like almost the entire field, or at least, don’t mind most of them. There are very few drivers that bug me in any sense, or I find myself rooting against.
That is not the case with Juan Pablo Montoya. I do not like JPM. At all. I dislike him as a driver, with all the illogical loathing a sports fan can muster. For me, he is the quintessential black hat, as lovable as rickets, as charming as that guy in the neighborhood who lets his dog do his business on everyone’s front step.
Now, I understand that some of you reading this may be Juan Pablo Montoya apologists, or possibly even fans. Please understand, I fully get that I am completely irrational when it comes to this subject. You can bring me story after story of JPM feeding orphans, buying prosthetic limbs for Korean War veterans, or spending his free time miraculously healing lepers. It’s not going to change anything. My disdain for Juan Pablo Montoya is storied and deep, and includes:
-2000, when he dominated the Indy 500, I was irritated that he a) dominated the race, and b) seemed to think that it was absolute child’s play. Worst of all, he beat out the driver that I had in our pool (Buddy Lazier). If he runs Indy next year, I will be hoping his average 500 finish drops to 17.0.
-If you’ve seen him at the track, you will likely concur his demeanor, friendliness and attitude are generally found severely wanting compared to what we get from most of our IndyCar drivers. To put it more succinctly, the guy can be a massive tool.
-I’ve watched him drive recklessly in Grand-Am, ruining the championship chances of other teams, and possibly being the last straw that caused one of Grand-Am’s big boosters to depart.
-Implied his bad guy reputation was due not to his bowling ball impersonation in NASCAR, but thanks to xenophobia (which, admittedly, would be a massively stupid reason not to like a driver, but it doesn’t seem to hurt Marcos Ambrose any).
-The last time I saw any NASCAR race on television, it was the precise moment Montoya was crashing into a jet dryer. Admittedly, that was sort of cool, but not for the right reasons.
Now? Now he’s joining Penske Racing. Penske. No, it couldn’t be some startup team, where I could watch him tool around in P18, doomed to toil in IndyCar Purgatory. It’s Penske. Where he’ll probably use all that racing talent and perform way too well for my liking. I won’t even touch the fact he’ll probably have a top-shelf car for Indianapolis. I might need a hip flask this May.
Ultimately, cheering for or against a driver doesn’t have to be logical (my mom was a Little Al fan, if I recall, because he had a baby face). That’s how it is with me and Juan Pablo Montoya. I don’t like him, I probably never will, and that’s all there is to it. I’m thrilled he’s on his way to IndyCar. I imagine I’ll probably get mad when he does well, and will delight when Scott Dixon or Ryan Hunter-Reay kick his butt. I recognize on one level, he’s a guy with kids and a family (like me), and someone who has won in American open wheel, NASCAR, and Formula 1 (very much unlike me). I have a massive amount of respect for his prior accomplishments. But when he’s on that track, all I can tell you is, it’s war.
I think it’s fantastic you’re joining IndyCar next year, Juan Pablo Montoya. I’ll be cheering against you every step of the way.