When you’re a reporter, you’re supposed to keep fandom to yourself. Cheering (and, sadly, beer) is frowned upon in sporting-arena press boxes. There’s never a sign telling you not to; you’re just supposed to know, much the same as no sign tells you to wear pants in public. It’s okay to be breathless in your description of high sports drama, so long as the excitement is not tied to one side in the contest. And you’re not supposed to fawn over the competitors (a dictum many of ESPN’s reporters and commentators seem to have lain aside, but I digress).
I share all this to put my egregious behavior of last Sunday night into context. I was at an Indianapolis 500 after-party downtown with some colleagues, which we planned to cover here on the May Madness pages of IndianapolisMonthly.com. We thought that, as rookie driver Wade Cunningham was hosting the event, maybe some other young drivers would attend, and we could get some photos of them unwinding.
Mid-party, I stepped out to have a cigarette. A fit guy who appeared to be in his late thirties, wearing a white T and a black baseball cap pulled down over longish brown hair, was clowning around on the sidewalk with some mates. There was something about him. He looked so—familiar. Then I heard a Scottish accent. “No!” I thought. Was it the guy whose pictures I had been browsing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media site just hours before in my office—wearing a triumphant wreath, waving to 220,000 cheers, dumping milk over his head, kissing the bricks and his attractive movie-star wife? Was it the guy who had, just a few hours earlier, won the freakin’ Indianapolis 500—for the third time? Was it … Dario Franchitti? Here on the sidewalk?!
I darted into the club, summoned a colleague with a camera, and ran back outside with him close on my heels. I pointed out the man with the black baseball cap. Then I approached him. “Excuse me,” I said, “but aren’t you Dario Franchitti?” He denied that he was. But I persisted. “Congratulations on the win today,” I said. “Thank you,” he replied. Now his cover was blown. I asked for a picture, and he hesitated. “I’m a big fan,” I pleaded. He relented, and stepped toward my colleague with the camera. But instead of just letting him stand there for the picture, I jumped in, put my arm around him, and, with a big, cheesy smile, had my picture taken, too.
Okay, so I was thrilled, not because running into Franchitti on the sidewalk was a nice “get” for the website, but because I got to meet the reigning 500 champ, fresh off a storybook win, and take away a picture to prove it.
At least I didn’t ask for an autograph. But little matter: My cover, like Franchitti’s, was blown. I’m not a reporter.
I’m a fan.
Photo by Jonathan Scott