Op-Ed: Fan access in another world

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While spending the weekend in the paddock of Texas Motor Speedway for this past weekend’s Firestone 550 IndyCar race, I spent a lot of time considering the differences between Formula One and, not just IndyCar, but pretty much all of the top shelf racing series here in the States.  But on the same weekend in which tickets for the upcoming Austin Grand Prix were going on sale, it wasn’t the cars or the racing I was pondering; it was the fans.

On Sunday afternoon, Speed’s pre-race coverage here in the U.S. ran a glitzy montage of the numerous pit lane celebrity sightings from the six GPs leading up to Canada. Footage of Antonio Banderas, Patrick Stewart and the like helped to widen that gap between the elite world of Formula One and, well, the rest of us.

Not that I care much for celebrities.  In fact, it’s the stars of the sport that I have loved since I was a very young lad that leave me stammering and blabbering like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.  That’s right, I said it…I’m a fanboy.  And as a fanboy, IndyCar, ALMS, Rolex Sportscars and even Nascar have the one thing that Formula One doesn’t and probably never will have: fan access to the stars and the cars.

Per F1’s own website, a lover of F1 can indeed be easily granted access behind the scenes of a Grand Prix.  For example, a one time fee will get you a weekend pass to the British Grand Prix’s Formula One Paddock Club.  The laundry list of perks include primo seating, a hospitality area with an open bar and lounge, gourmet lunches, your very own program and ear plugs and, should you fork down the nearly fifteen grand for not one but three Paddock Club tickets, ‘free’ parking!  And all this could be had for the princely sum of $4,680.92 each. 

But the real kicker as a fan is that the Paddock Club tickets also give you access to the pits.  Well, sort of.  Per the site, you will get “Scheduled Pit Walks”.

Now we all know how much Grace despises those hundred dollar F1 key fobs.  And we all know that Formula One is a world apart from every other form of motorsport in the world.  Heck, that’s why we all love it like we do, right?  But really?  Nearly five thousand dollars to get into the pits?

Now let me bump this number up against a fan’s access at an IndyCar event.  A full weekend paddock pass, which not only gave you access to the back of pit lane but to the garages themselves, ran for sixty dollars.  Of course, that does not include all of the beautiful and nicely tanned perks of the Formula One Paddock Club, but it is also less that TWO PERCENT of the price!  Even if one were to splurge on themselves at an IndyCar race, buying the best seat available and eating out at the finest area restaurants, you’d still be looking at a tenth of the cost with far more access.

But the kicker for me, again, is that of looking at this from a fanboy’s point of view.  Say you spend your five grand on your little Paddock Club party.  Can you still walk right up to Webbo, Fernando or Lewis and ask them how their day is going?  If they were still in F1, could I have done the same with Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, Rubens Barrichello or Mario Andretti as I did this weekend?    

Of course, I am not naïve enough to not know the difference between the world of F1 and the world that the rest of us live in. Bernie likes to keep his world separate and elite and that’s fine.  In fact, I personally think that adds a certain mystique to Formula One. The inability to meet the so called heroes of the sport, I suppose, helps them to maintain that hero status, almost as if they’re other worldly.

I, for one, prefer the opportunity to shoot the breeze with any driver on the grid, however.  It tends to bring them down to my level by at least making them appear to be an actual person and not some bionic German automaton.  I often wonder if my fellow fans feel the same way or if I am just a lonely fanboy, clambering to get my tattered, sweat stained ’94 Autocourse signed by yet another former Formula One driver.


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