Chris Gill: The NHL and IndyCar: Your awkward friends at the club

Chris Gill

Imagine you’re a single dude – unless you are, then ... well bully for you – and you’re heading out to the club to find the future Mrs. You. Since you’re not a blithering idiot, you will bathe, leave the Lord of the Rings T-shirt in the closet and bring more than $10. Once in the club, and by some metaphysical miracle actually talk to a girl, you certainly won’t update your fantasy football team on your iPhone in the middle of a conversation; talk about how mad you are at your parents because they always do laundry in the basement while you’re sleeping; or brag about your comic book collection.

Those are things not done by sane men (note: apologies to the ladies for the masculine tone of this column, it wouldn’t work with a unisex gist to it).

The guys who do break such social tenets don’t find love in clubs or coffee shops, their wives and mothers of their children are found at sci-fi and comic book conventions, where only a small sector of the population – i.e. niche groups – gather. Right now, the National Hockey League and IZOD IndyCar Series are “those guys” – desperate for interaction with a broader base, but end up talking about the extended Star Wars universe once in the presence of the opposite sex.

Unlike the awkward fellows in the club – and from a former single guy, thanks to all you for making the rest of us look like viable alternatives – both the NHL and Indy car racing had that wide following once. The NHL was once part of the Big Four in the American pro sports hierarchy, and arguably the Top 3 for a spell, while the Indianapolis 500 captured the imagination of people across the globe for generations.

Today, Nov. 3, 2012, neither seems to know how to be in the presence of their intended affection without giant sweat rings visibly growing in the armpits of their “Han Shot First” novelty shirts.

Friday, it was reported the NHL will cancel arguably its most successful event, the Winter Classic, as another labor dispute in the pinnacle of hockey drags on. The Classic has become a New Year’s Day tradition, when two NHL teams play a regular season game in an outdoor facility like Ralph Wilson Stadium (still the best site), Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Stanley Cup Finals aside, the Winter Classic is the NHL’s marquee event. In this case, canceling it is like convincing your best friend to skip his Saturday night Dungeons and Dragons session (that’s what they’re called, right?) to go to the club, only to watch him buy a pretty girl a drink and promptly spill it down the front of her blouse.

Painful. Utterly hopeless.

Meanwhile, Indy car just had a successful coup following a Sunday night board meeting in Indianapolis, where Hulman & Company voted to oust Randy Bernard. Hired in 2010, Bernard was tasked with injecting the IZOD IndyCar Series with some new energy and leadership – becoming quite popular with fans new and old. During his short stint in charge, Bernard convinced cash-strapped manufacturers to take in interest in the series again, introduced a brand new style of race car and gave IndyCar a buzz it hasn’t had in almost 20 years. Along the way, he irked most of the team owners, and many drivers who felt his policies put them in danger, so the parent company gave him the option to resign. Fan response was negative. Really negative. In this case, it’s like watching your buddy talk to a pretty girl in the club, then call her stupid because she likes Tony Romo more than Aaron Rodgers.


The thing that escapes both the NHL and IndyCar is this: They’re not in the Big 4, and have not been for some time. Despite their good qualities, which in a perfect world should outweigh the dysfunction, they’re popularity is threatened by mixed martial arts and episodes of “Friends” in syndication. If you were to include college football and college basketball in the landscape, the NHL and IndyCar probably aren’t even in the Big 6, and neither seems to know how to get back up there.

I love both pro hockey and open-wheel racing, and don’t really care how they rate on a national scale, but the very future of both seems particularly dim at the moment. Like a good, awkward friend, you just hate to see them fail – especially in such spectacular ways.

Just sayin’: USA Today’s Nate Ryan suggested this week that NASCAR could buy IndyCar, benefiting both parties. If such a transaction happened today, NASCAR would own everything in American racing except the NHRA after 2014. ... While on the topic of big-ticket purchases: Disney bought Lucasfilm (i.e. Star Wars, Indiana Jones) for more than $4 billion, adding to its acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel Comics. By 2014, Disney could own everything I enjoy except beer and sex. ... Tuesday is Election Day. Don’t listen to advertisements or watch cable news channels, take one hour out of one day this weekend and read about the candidates – the ones running for Congress, too – and make your own opinion before visiting the polls. Be part of the process or shut up.

Chris Gill, sports writer for The Leader, Corning, N.Y., can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @TheLeaderGill.