It’s simple really, but there are several answers in my mind. Take the Yankees for example. I’m from Indiana, have never lived in New York, yet I’ve been a New York Yankee fan since I was about 9 years old. Grandpa Jenkins and I used to watch the Game of the Week and in my memory the Yankees were on TV almost every Saturday. I didn’t know then what I know now, that the Yankees were owned by CBS Television back in the 1960’s. That’s why they were on every Saturday.
I didn’t know then that the announcers on the games, Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese were employed by CBS. CBS paid them to broadcast the games. I didn’t even wonder back then why Ol Dizzy and Pee Wee seemed to love the Yankees so much. Neither one of them played for the Yankees, in fact Reese played for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. I always thought all Dodgers and Dodger fans hated the Yankees. You can talk really nice about a team if you’re paid to do it. I know that now. Those guys convinced me that the Yankees were the good guys; I could see they were winners. The reason I still love em is the reason a lot of people hate em…they win a lot.
It makes a little more sense, I guess, that I’m an Indy car racing fan. I was in high school before I ever saw the track and was an adult before I ever got to go to the Indianapolis 500. I was raised on a farm about 65 miles from Speedway, Indiana but all I knew about the Indy 500 was that on race day I’d probably be on a tractor and if I was lucky I’d be on the one that hat a big red radio bolted to the fender. I’d listen to the entire broadcast. I was so surprised the first time I heard Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana.” I didn’t know Gomer could sing like that. Little did I know then that someday I’d get to interview Nabors and learn that he was surprised when he learned he was going to sing that song.
Jim Nabors told me that Tony Hulman who owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway liked the way he sang and called him and asked him if he’d come to the race and sing for the crowd. Jim came to rehearsal the day before the race and the band director of the Purdue Marching Band had the band ready to go. The band director said something like, Ok, this is in the key of G, and Jim said, “Wait, I thought the Star Spangled Banner was in the key of C. That’s when they told Nabors that he wasn’t singing the Star Spangled Banner; he was going to sing Back Home Again in Indiana. Jim Nabors said that somebody better get him the words because he’s never sung that song before. He’s sung it most years ever since. It’s not the same when he doesn’t.
So, now this weekend, for the first time Indy cars are coming to Birmingham. That’s a big deal to me. I’m taking Friday off just to go hang out at the track. I’ll be rooting for a relatively newcomer who drives for Penske racing. Will Power is off to a great start this year. He’s won the first two races in Sao Paulo, Brazil and St. Petersburg.
Here’s my point. I’m not a Will Power fan because he won the first two races. I’m a Will Power fan because I spent a half hour with him at the track a couple weeks ago and he was a real pleasure to be around. It was refreshing to be around a big time driver who didn’t “big time” you. Here’s another point. I was at the track with our sports guys last month and they got interviews with several drivers. Many were cooperative, patient and nice and did a great job of promoting their sport. One walked up to cameras that had been waiting for this particular driver for about a half hour. This particular driver walked up to the cameras and said “Ok, guys I’ll answer one question!” Really, you’re here to promote Indy racing….you’re here to promote your owner and sponsors and you’ve been hanging out at the track all day…..everyone’s been waiting for you to grace them with your presence and you’re willing to take one question. I was just watching, but if it was my story. My camera guy and I would have said, “No thanks”.
Will Power answered all questions from me and another station that was there. He chatted about the track about driving for Roger Penske about just getting engaged to be married. He told me what it’s like to qualify at Indy and how if you want to be on the front row, you can’t lift your foot off the accelerator even once. He was engaging and did what I’m assuming Roger Penske and his sponsor Verizon Wireless wants him to do. He’ll be easy to root for this weekend and next month at Indy.
I told Will Power that our family would be in the short chute between turns 1 and 2 at Indianapolis next month. I told him to wave high in the stands and I’d tell my boys that my friend Will Power was waving at us. Will tried to be polite and said; “I don’t think I’ll be able to wave once the race begins.”
I laughed and said, “No, I mean on the warm up or parade laps when you’re warming your tires. That’s when drivers usually wave to the fans as they go by. He laughed and said he would. I’ll bet he will too.
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