By the time Joseph Gault logged onto Twitter at 2 p.m., the conversation had already run away from him. Gault is a lifelong IndyCar fan. The Indianapolis native attended his first Indianapolis 500 when he was 10 years old after developing a love for the sport attending practices and qualifications. You can’t beat it, he said, the smell of it and the whipping noises as the cars run by on their first lap.
Each year, he’s sat in the same area and attended the same tailgate as his family welcomed friends into their yearly tradition.
“It was just kind of a community thing,” he said.
Best IndyCar coverage anywhere:
- Fans at 2020 Indy 500: IMS plans to allow 50% capacity
- 7 things fans need to know about new 2020 Indy 500 plan
- Local Indy 500 TV blackout still planned, despite 50% cap on spectators
So, yeah, if he has to choose between IndyCar and NASCAR, IndyCar is his favorite. Yet ahead of a historic weekend of IndyCar and NASCAR unity with their first doubleheader, his viewpoint was rare. An hour before Gault chimed in, IndyStar Sports sent out a Tweet asking fans which series they preferred. The early replies started confused and gradually grew in frustration.
“Are you trying to divide people? Absolutely uncalled for!” one user wrote.
“Why is this post necessary?” another wrote.
“Can't we be just plain racing fans?” said another.
The consensus was clear, and overwhelming: The doubleheader July 4-5 is an event that fanbases have never seen before. And the motor sports community has craved something new and interesting since the coronavirus shutdown paused competition during prime racing months. Gault knows what he enjoys, but so do the fans who don’t feel they have to choose.
“Right now I'd say IndyCar and NASCAR fans are a lot closer than I've ever seen them in my lifetime,” said David Land, who covers motorsports through his YouTube channel. “But it has been close. And there's always going to need to be a comparison.”
By nature of being the two giants in American motor sports, a divide has always existed between the two fanbases. The differences are undeniable and they attract some fans with the same aspects of their series' that repel others. NASCAR fans have driver allegiances at a high speed they can still follow. IndyCar fans have cars that can be as much as 50 miles per hour faster and a love of the pure racing that it produces.
Gault said the fandom conversations have never been volatile, though. He’d make slight digs at his friends who liked NASCAR, but he’d never look down on them.
“It's just a fun little rivalry," he said.
Because the sports are so closely connected yet with undeniable differences, when one series does something exciting, the attention naturally shifts to see how the other responds, Land said. The debate is produced organically, even if it can go unnoticed.
Over the years, social media has made following both much easier. The fandom has long been regional, with the south embracing NASCAR and IndyCar forming a hotbed within commuter distance of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Yet new fans, by way of easily-accessible technology, grow up equidistant from the online IndyCar and NASCAR experiences that keep growing.
Luke Mercier makes a day of it, keeping a diecast of his favorite driver with him during the races as a superstition. Doug Applegate enjoys the ease at which NASCAR can be watched on TV, but notes it can’t replace the Indy 500’s lure. Chad Frankenfield has seen some of the greatest drivers ever do both, and it made it easy to appreciate each more.
"They're different flavors of the same thing,” Doug Ellison, a fan of both series, said. “Motorsports are better for having different flavors of the same thing."
The doubleheader this weekend 4-5 offers the opportunity to mesh the two circuits like never before, and both series stand to benefit.
So Gault knows that the debate probably isn’t necessary. But the debate has long been a part of the sport, and its presence doesn’t have to detract from each series.
“I thought it was a little silly: It's sports and I feel like everybody's allowed to like what they like,” Gault said. “That's what makes sports great."
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter at @mikejmccleary.
INDYCAR vs. NASCAR
Here is how IndyCar and NASCAR compare in various categories based on the most recent reported information.
Top speed: 235 mph vs. 200 mph
Car weight: 1,500 pounds vs. 3,200 pounds
Cost per car: $15 million vs. $25 million
Top paid driver earnings: $2.5 million vs. $15 million
TV rights: Undisclosed vs. $660 million
Naming rights: $10 million vs. $20 million
Full-time drivers: 21 vs. 36