COMMENTARY: NASCAR Fans Can Learn from IndyCar Fans

NASCAR fans can learn from IndyCar fans by respecting the personal space of drivers around the track and in the garage area. The drivers in IndyCar can walk freely among fans in an unrestricted garage area. While on the other hand, NASCAR drivers hesitate to peek their heads out of their haulers, worried about fans mobbing them with requests for autographs and photos.  

Recently, I attended the Children of Alabama IndyCar Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park. After attending several NASCAR races every year, this was my first IndyCar race in over a decade. While at the track, a few differences between NASCAR and IndyCar came to my attention. 

No Restricted Garage at Barber Motorsports Park

First, the experience was quite different. Most teams have a temporary garage area next to their haulers. When the gates are open, fans have access to a large paddock/garage area  

My next observation is that IndyCar fans seem to have much more respect for drivers than NASCAR fans. Drivers walk all around the paddock continuously all three days and fans treat them like regular guys. At a NASCAR race, a driver hesitates to peek their head out of the hauler worried about fans mobbing them by shoving hats, shirts, or other items in their face while begging for an autograph, selfie, or whatever they want to bother the driver about. 

During my experience at Barber, drivers make it clear when they are ready to accommodate fans and their request for autographs. Then, fans circle the driver and politely wait for their autograph. Other than that, drivers freely walk the paddock without fans approaching them. Because of the respect, fans see many more of their favorite drivers throughout the weekend. 

What a Difference in Just a Decade 

When NASCAR was first doing testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the first Brickyard 400, local news articles were touting how accessible NASCAR drivers were comparing them to their IndyCar counterparts.  In 2023, driver accessibility has flipped 180 degrees.   

NASCAR fans sometimes complain about how drivers are no longer accessible. One must wonder if they miss the point that fan behavior could be a reason that NASCAR drivers tend to be more reclusive. If fans started treating drivers with more respect and understood that drivers are trying to do their job and go about their day, perhaps they would benefit from more contact with their favorite drivers.  The fan experience has evolved to a point where NASCAR drivers hide in their haulers/campers and shuttle around on golf carts to get from one point to another.  It should be apparent that driver elusiveness is a direct result of fan behavior. 

NASCAR Fans Can Learn from IndyCar Fans 

A popular phrase could help fans change their behavior – “Read the room.” Apply this thought to instances where NASCAR fans spot a driver whether it is at the track or a restaurant in town. Drivers make ‘official’ appearance times and dates when they are open to signing autographs, taking pictures, and other fan interaction. Outside of those official appearances, fans should respect that NASCAR drivers are regular people doing their jobs at the track. If a fan sees a driver walking around the garage or anywhere around the track, it is a good chance the driver is just trying to go about their day, taking in their weekend experience. Fans should respect that personal space and their patience might change driver behavior making them more willing to share public space.