Op-Ed – Indy Downforce

Back in 2007, I became a card-carrying member of Indy Downforce, the official fan club of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Ever since, I’ve been more involved with the league than I ever thought possible. Downforce originally came about by a group of fans who followed the series from oval to oval and decided to form up a fan club. Eventually, the league took note and now the fan club is official and offers members fantastic access to drivers, officials, gear, and even the occasional race ticket! Indy Downforce has grown significantly since those early beginnings and has members from all walks of life and from all over the continent. Since joining, I’ve met numerous drivers and league officials, stood on the starting grid during driver introductions, had BBQ and breakfast with the always entertaining Jack Arute, and this year I have the opportunity to do some photography for the club. Three years ago, I couldn’t have imagined having the level of involvement and access that I have now as a member of Downforce.

What is Indy Downforce?
Indy Downforce is the official fan club of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights. First and foremost, the purpose of the fan club is to celebrate the open-wheel racing that we all love and especially that Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Membership benefits:
So what’s the benefit of being a part of Downforce? First and foremost for me is the camaraderie with fellow racing fans! My wife and I have met a lot of great people through Downforce that we look forward to seeing every time we attend a race. We meet fellow members at the pre-race party before each race, and chat and swap stories catching up on events that slipped through the discussions on the IndyCar.com fan forums.

Pre-Race Parties

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Every race, the club has a pre-race party where members can meet-up, swap stories of old races, and generally have a good time. Various league celebrities, drivers, and insiders are often invited to the pre-race party for a Q&A session with the members. How many other fans get to interact so directly with their favorite driver? Of the pre-race parties I’ve been able to attend so far in my short term of membership with the club, I’ve had the opportunity to ask questions and hear the thoughts of Sebastian Saavedra, Danica Patrick, Will Power, Sarah Fisher, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Martin Plowman, Darren Manning, Bruce Martin, Jack Arute, and even Terry Angstadt. During these Q&A sessions, the drivers are very candid and open. Its was really great hearing Darren Manning talk about the dynamics of driving through the Esses at Mid-Ohio. Really amazing stuff. This year at Kansas, we were treated to a very open discussion about the race schedule for the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2011 and beyond with Terry Angstadt. Talk about great access! Where else can you get that kind of info first hand and be able to ask your own questions directly to the man himself?

During the pre-race party, there’s also a raffle for various gear and a few passes for access to the pre-race grid during the driver announcements. Everyone who attends gets one ticket on the house, and additional tickets can be purchased.

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The profits from the raffle go to various league charities, and typically fans donate upwards of $400-$500 each race. Give-away items often include various die-cast cars, flags, hats and the like, but there’s often a large item or two raffled as well. I won an umbrella this year at Kansas, and I’m afraid it will be all to useful this coming weekend at Indianapolis. The best prize of all is the pre-race access pass which grants winning members access to the pre-race grid during the driver introductions. This level of access isn’t easily obtained by most fans and its a real treat to be able to be up-close with all of the drivers as they’re introduced to the crowd.

Earning Points and Redeeming for Goodies
Although the social aspects of the club are really the best features as far as I see it, there’s also opportunities to get some really great gear, discounts on IndyCar Experience rides, and event race tickets and pit passes. Members can earn points at the track by volunteering at the Indy Fan Zone, and attending race day and qualifying day events. For those not fortunate enough to be at the track, points can also be earned by watching the IZOD IndyCar Series races on TV, and by listening to the IMS Radio Network race broadcast of both the IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights races. Between my wife and I, we’ve had tickets to Texas for two years running now, looking at our third this year, a couple of great official league polo shirts (very stylish), and several other trinkets such as Downforce logo keychains and the like.

Every year on Bump Day morning, there is a breakfast for Crew-Level members at the Brickyard At The Crossing. We suck down mad amounts of coffee, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs and bacon swapping stories, catching up, and generally work ourselves into a frenzy in anticipation for the Bump Day action. Typically, there are notable persons from the IndyCar community invited to the breakfast. Last year, Downforce honored Jack Arute with a plaque of appreciation for all of his help, cooperation, and involvement in the club. This year, Curt Cavin will be attending and the breakfast has been opened to all members, even brand new ones! You can sign up now, and then join us and Curt on Sunday morning for great conversation over breakfast and coffee. One lucky attendee won an original Roger Warrick painting that Roger finished right there at breakfast with the car in the livery of the winner’s choosing. Brilliant!

Year-end Banquet
At the end of the racing season, the club holds a year-end banquet where fans are treated to a dinner, give-aways, and entertainment. A few drivers often make it to the banquet as well as other notables from the league and community. Like the Bump Day breakfast, crew-level members are offered first dibs on tickets, but all members are invited to come out and take part. The last couple of years have been casino-themed with table games with play-money, but if casino games aren’t your thing, don’t worry. The theme changes from time to time and there will be plenty of other things to keep you occupied.

How do I join?
Becoming a member of the Indy Downforce fan club is easy. You can sign up either at any of the races at the IndyCar Fan Zone where a volunteer can help you get signed up, or you can sign up online at http://indycarnation.indycar.com/. Membership is only $28.99 for the year, or $1.71 per race if you want to think of it that way. See you at the pre-race parties!

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