The Indianapolis 500 is the greatest spectacle in racing and, depending on how good the NBA playoffs are, roughly the fourth greatest spectacle in sports on the last Sunday in May.
Jokes aside, there’s a reason this competition captivates such a large audience every year for three hours despite receiving relatively little national hype during the other 8,757. IndyCar is adrenaline incarnate, a modern-day chariot race in which humans hurtle past one another at 230 miles per hour in deceptively aerodynamic metal death traps.
Nevertheless, sinking a full afternoon into the 500 can be daunting for a casual viewer whose closest encounter with motorsports is a jaunt on Rainbow Road. If you’re afraid your friends from Indianapolis are going to shun you for your indifference, here are some tips guaranteed to make it sound like you were at the oval on race day.
Only bring up the names you know
Will Power. Tony Kanaan. Famed ‘Dancing with the Stars’ season five champion Hélio Castroneves. These are all, beyond the shadow of a doubt, people who have appeared in IndyCar Series races.
What can I say, I’m an old-school sports fan who respects the greats. Give me Michael Jordan over LeBron James any day. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron over Bryce Harper. Wayne Gretzky over a current hockey player.
Recall memories from the races you’ve actually seen
Even if you didn’t watch a blink of this year’s race, you probably have hazy memories from Sundays past.
Sure, it’s not particularly topical, but nobody’s going to fault you for replaying the greatest hits.
Who could forget Tony Kanaan blazing past the checkered flag after 68 nail-biting lead changes? What about when rookie J.R. Hildebrand led the majority of his first outing, only to slide into the retaining wall on its final turn?
Moments like these are powerfully nostalgic, easy to talk about and only happened a couple years ago, give or take seven.
Use humor as a crutch
Not that I would know anything about this, but I’ve heard burying your lack of understanding and sensitivity around a cultural phenomenon beneath a layer of half-baked jokes can be an excellent way to throw off those who seek to expose you.
IndyCar? Yeah, I’ve seen ‘Cars 2.’ Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy are sort of the Abbott and Costello of our generation if you really think about it.
Once you’ve annoyed your friends enough to make them stop grilling you, you can get back to watching basketball and worriedly wondering how you’re going to escape your web of lies come soccer season, whenever that is.
Develop an upsettingly encyclopedic knowledge of milk
This one’s a bit of a curveball, but it might be the conversational lifesaver that keeps you from drowning in critical stares. At the end of the day, the Indy 500 is simply a competition for a chance to guzzle an ice-cold bottle of bovine mammary secretion.
The second someone calls you out on your lack of racing knowledge, crack back with your own line of questioning.
Oh, you think you’re a real IndyCar aficionado just because you’ve been to every race since you were a toddler? Go ahead, name the top ten milk producers in the United States. And don’t you dare put Wisconsin at no. 1, you udder fool.
It doesn’t matter if their vehicle is a Chevrolet or a Honda — the only thing IndyCar racers actually ride are the coattails of Louis Pasteur, and they’ll still never be 2% the man he was.