Commentary: Yes, He Won at Indy!

Photo by Chris Owens/Indianapolis Motor Speedway


The 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 told many stories.

We saw a Formula One world champion driver give The Brickyard his best until his Honda engine failed him. We also saw the backlash against Honda because of that engine failure. Yet, it was a Honda engine that drive this year's winner – Takuma Sato.

Fernando Alonso and Sato were not just the big stories coming out of Speedway, Indiana. It was a great race with an amazing level of parity among the drivers o the 33-entry grid. The Verizon IndyCar Series is now seen as a shining example of success and engagement in American motorsports. Now, it heads off from Indiana to fulfill the rest of its schedule – with stops in Detroit, Elkhart Lake and Newton, Iowa looming in June and July.

Sato's win should not come as a surprise. The former Formula One driver has been working his way to the top of the series with superb driving and a solid car. It was an equal effort by Andretti Motorsport to ensure Sato's success in IndyCar as he shows his skills in being flexible over the diversity of venues the series runs on. Yet, Sato found his sweet spot at The Brickyard. In the end, he collected his check for almost $2.5 Million and will have his face on the Borg Warner Trophy by the running of the next Indy 500.

As we celebrate Sato's biggest victory of his career, a few folks took that win as a joke. A few others outright criticized Sato's win.

Then came this posting on Twitter…

Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend.

That tweet came from Terry Frei, the now former sportswriter for the Denver Post. The newspaper subsequently fired him for this tweet. Frei and the Post has since apologized, but the award-winning sportswriter also justified his social media statement basing it on our involvement in World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor engaging us in that global conflict.

Apparently, these facts have not been taken under consideration by some people in the USA. The war ended in 1945, We have since engaged in a very positive diplomacy since then. The automotive industry in Japan has become leaders globally, including producing automobiles in this country.

Japan has also been seen as leaders in motorsport. Honda developed engines for Formula One, IndyCar, IMSA and so forth. Toyota has won at NASCAR and has taken a more visible role in several series within the sanctioning body. Other Japanese manufacturers have been heavily involved in many motorsports series worldwide. Their drivers are amongst some of the top athletes in auto racing – including the victorious Sato. And, there's nothing like the weather and the crowd when the Japanese Grand Prix is run at Fuji.

Since the end of World War II, the worldview of Eurocentric populations have been extremely negative towards anything Japanese – and that's a damn shame! Colonialism still exists and it has hampered the acceptance of anything non-Eurocentric in almost every country and territory imaginable. And, when we thought we were above any form of racism and xenophobia, it constantly rears its head.

When I think of Sato, I think of others who have broken barriers in motorsport – whether we like them or not. On our Facebook page, we reposted a video from the Indianapolis Star celebrating 40 years since Janet Guthrie first qualified for the Indy 500. She was the first woman to do so. Yet, she received a lot of sexist comments from her competitors. Lewis Hamilton criticized Alonso for skipping the Monaco Grand Prix for the Indy 500. What if Alonso succeeded and his engine did not fail? Would we have seen Hamilton at The Brickyard in due time? Who knows when the racism against him will rear its head if he competes in the 500?

But, we have accepted Hamilton as a Formula One world champion. We call him a spoiled brat, but he is a champion. As we have accepted the Colombians, Brazilians and other Latin Americans onto the IndyCar circuit. IndyCar fans know Sato is good on the track and know he can take victory away from the other favorites on the circuit.

So, why the racism? Why did Frei and others have to bring it up for some historical context that we have moved forward from – or have we?

Let me throw another wrench in all of this: what if your motorsports hero was gay? Now, we add homophobia to the mix of the wider xenophobia that rears its head on social media. I'm sure if a gay driver won one of the big events in motorsports, all of social media will go into frenzy to celebrate that driver…or reduce that driver into tiny pieces of molecules.

The bottom line is this: xenophobia is utter nonsense. Sadly, no one gives a damn to curtail it. In fact, it drives today's politics and governmental policies in the USA and beyond. It has gotten worse since last November's election. I'm not too positive that it will get any better for anyone not of the status quo in this country for quite some time.

The facts remain the same. Sato got his $2.5 million for winning his first Indy 500. He had his carafe of milk, his wreath around his torso and will have his name and face on the Borg Warner Trophy. Try to take all of that away from one of the best drivers on the IndyCar circuit.

Tweets and other social media posts can be buzzkills to the triumphs of others. It has the power to take away the significance of that victory. Would it be better to celebrate the victor and get over it? I certainly hope so…

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