My Nickname Is IRL

Posted by Iannucci | 9/12/2006 | 1 comments »
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One thing that nearly everyone asks about My Name Is IRL is the driver nicknames. If you ever wondered about these then today is the day for answers, and even a few updates.

The deal is I think the league does a MISERABLE job promoting the personalities of the drivers. When drivers are stuck in a helmet and a car it’s really difficult to gather any personality traits. But that should be the focus of any sports league – the personalities. One of the reasons fans like me started tuning out CART/Champ Car was because it became totally populated by foreign drivers who barely spoke English. As a consequence fans knew very little about these guys, leaving the colors of their cars as the only distinguishing difference between them.

And as I’ve noted before: fans cheer for people, not paint.

When the Indy Racing League was formed it was almost exclusively American drivers. That had a certain appeal, because if nothing else fans could be regionally affiliated with a driver. But soon enough foreign drivers were taking seats from American drivers, and the process started all over again.

To be fair, many of these imports are very personable fellows. I wouldn’t trade Castroneves, Kanaan, or Wheldon for any of the dull NASCAR poster boys. In addition to talent these IndyCar guys have actual personalities, and every week I sit and scratch my head wondering why the league doesn’t take advantage of them.

So instead of just whining about it constantly, I decided I would try to help things along. I crafted some nicknames to help passive fans remember some characteristics of the drivers. Since then I’ve been told the nicknames “sound like a bunch of superheroes”, which is exactly the point.

Some nicknames are easy to remember, like Spiderman is the guy who climbs the fences. I know I didn’t invent that one, but note the Marvel comic is “Spider-man”, and since Helio dehyphenated his last name from Castro-Neves I thought I would go along similarly.

Others involve a little more fun.
• Sarah Fisher has always been popular among fans, so playing on an old movie title makes her The Fisher Queen.
• Dario Franchitti is known mostly for his movie star wife, which makes him Mr Judd.
• Bryan Herta – the often forgotten and rarely seen fourth driver of AGR – is the Invisible Man.
• Vitor Meira drives exceptionally but is always behind someone else at the finish line, ergo In the Mirror.
• Danica Patrick is not only a one-name wonder, but also a constant reason for excitement for the media – hence, Danica!
• Buddy Rice is The Rainman because has only three wins, but one was a memorable, rain-shortened Indy 500.
• Tomas Scheckter has the highest career accident rate of any regular, so he’s The Wrecker.
• Dan Wheldon is not just an incredible driver, he also gets especially burned up when he loses races he was leading – Well Done covers both attributes.

And so they go. However, marketing groups have been known to rethink their strategies and I’m inclined to review mine every now and again as well. I suppose if Scheckter has another season like this one he may no longer be “The Wrecker”, but for now I’m going to limit the nickname updates to the following three drivers.

Sam Hornish Jr – I’ve been referring to him as Boulder Sam as an homage to my father-in-law, who for years has testified to Sam’s ability to fearlessly, skillfully, and winningly drive wheel-to-wheel better than any driver an the league. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “He’s got some boulders in his pants”, but it was enough to warrant the nickname. This year Sam finally won the Indy 500 and clearly established he is still the man to beat, despite facing a tidal wave of foreign-born talent. Throw in the fact that his birthday is only a couple days from Independence Day and there is only one possible outcome: Uncle Sam.

Tony Kanaan – After several successful years in the IRL it’s as obvious as the nose on his face that Kanaan does more to promote positional change on the course than anyone. Every race sees him all over the track defending or attacking, and often showing a nose for the lead. “El Nariz” is Portuguese for “The Nose”, but after displaying endurance both on the track and off (he’s a triathlete) and fiercely competing as an undersized (or underpowered) driver with a reputation for entertainment, it’s time to take his nickname up a notch. Recall the pushups after his win at Infineon in 2005 and you get the obvious: Rocky.

Scott Dixon – “The Kiwi” is plain enough to represent Dixon’s near-introverted personality while still defining his place among his peers. However, two things have changed. First, with the near dominance of Indy Pro by countryman Wade Cunningham’s (he had two less races than everyone else and still nearly repeated as champion) Dixon will soon no longer be the lone New Zealander. Second, after two sub-par seasons, Dixon returned in 2006 not only as a contender, but also perhaps the most well-rounded driver. After watching how calmly he held off his much more widely publicized teammate in Nashville, Dixon will now be referred to by his more commonly known nickname: Iceman.

Now, despite all this there are still some drivers who are long overdue for nicknames. As an off-season project, I’m going to solicit your help on naming the nameless in the coming weeks. Comments will lead to votes, and hopefully we can add some more personality to the characters of the league. The only rules are nothing demeaning and nothing vulgar. Otherwise, I don’t care how ridiculous they are, provided an explanation is given.

Ask not what your racers can do for you.
Ask what you can do for your racers.


  1. Anonymous // September 12, 2006 7:26 AM  

    How bout simply referring to Marty Roth as "Speedy" from now on...and I didn't realize how the "Boulder Sam" nick came to be. That's hilarious and I vote to keep it!