Driver of the Decade

Posted by Iannucci | 1/09/2010 | | 3 comments »
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Tony at 16thandGeorgetown.com recently discussed what he thought were the "top 10 drivers of the decade", using lots of stats *thumbs up* to support his rankings. It's a fine review and the discussion even led to a poll in a later post that allows readers to pick their own Top 10 from a list of 20 drivers. Feel free to venture over and exercise your right to vote.

I didn't vote, but I did put at least 21 seconds of thought into this and I've concluded the "Driver of the Decade" is not only missing from Tony's Top 10 but is also curiously absent from the 20 selections available. As anyone who has watched the IRL, err, IZOD IndyCar Series over the last decade can tell you, hands-down, staring-you-in-the-face answer to "Driver of the Decade" is...Danica Patrick.

OK, stop laughing for just a moment and hear me out.

Let me start by saying I have a related ongoing discussion with friends over the Baseball Hall of Fame, where they ask me if I think a guy like Bert Blyleven who "has the numbers" to be a Hall of Fame member should get voted into the establishment. My response is usually along the lines of "It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good, right? Then if he doesn't get voted in it's because he wasn't famous enough."

Now obviously Driver of the Decade isn't the same as Hall of Fame membership, but my personal standard - and admittedly, it's subjective and arbitrary - includes not just achievement but also this caveat: would your or did you pay money to watch that person? I don't think a lot of people ever said "Oooh, I gotta get tickets to that game because Bert Blyleven is pitching," and I'm pretty sure even less people said "I can't wait to get to the track and watch that Scott Dixon". (And there you go: Scott Dixon is hereby determined to be the Bert Blyleven of racing.) Contrast that with the zillions of visible Fanicas at any given race and you start to see my point.

Of course, if you are still reading you're already itching to add the comment "You're an idiot - she only won one race and even that win was (blah blah blah)" and I'm not going to argue that with you. If I had to start a team with one driver from the talent pool of 2000-2009 then I'm reasonably confident she WOULD NOT be my selection, but on the other hand I don't know that I could definitively pick a particular driver. In fact, the series itself has transformed so much that I don't think I'd pick the same driver to race in Long Beach as I would in Homestead, or the same driver to race all season given the 2000 schedule as the 2009 one. So the whole argument of "best driver" is rather muddled at best given the circumstances.

But then again, the question wasn't (well, not directly at least) about determining the "best driver", and if it was then as I noted it seems not only impossible but also secondary to the title of "Driver of the Decade". It's as obvious as the nose on Tony Kanaan's face that when historians look back and see how much ink was spilt and how many photographs were snapped and how much merchandise was purchased for each driver I don't think this is even a close call. She's indisputably the most famous IndyCar driver, the one with the biggest societal impact, the "face of the league", the one who's lone win was considered an epic sports moment for an entire gender, and the one who's popularity was launched by the most famous fourth-place finish in sports history. The driver who has been in more advertisements, been on more talks shows, graced more magazine covers, has more fan sites, and who every single person reading this story has an opinion about is Danica Patrick.

It's more of a commentary on the state of American open-wheel racing, or possibly of sports in general, that she's more popular because of her swimsuit photos or her public appearances or her usage of the word "beaver", but the fact is the 2000s have been conquered and all are hers. She is indisputably the Driver of the Decade.

3 comments

  1. JE Clerk // January 09, 2010 8:49 AM  

    You haven't lost your touch, Jeff :)

  2. Kayla // January 09, 2010 7:23 PM  

    At first I kinda thought you'd lost your mind, but you actually make a really good point!

  3. Tail // January 13, 2010 9:02 PM  

    and what a desperately sad indictment of a once great sport that is. :(