A fan of any sport at some point crosses a threshold from casual enjoyment into loyalty and support, sometimes to an unhealthy extreme. Fans show off pride in their favorite team or athlete in different ways, from t-shirts to stickers to flags and memorabilia. Sports merchandising is big business, as we all know. If you’ve been to any major racing event, the teams have merchandise for sale, as well as the venue and/or the event. As a fan, buying a t-shirt or ball cap helps connect you to the event and the good memories associated with it.
Personally, I collect pins from race tracks and events I attend and have them taking up space on a #9 Kasey Kahne ball cap from his rookie year with Evernham. There are too many pins to allow the hat to be wearable without substantial injury, so it’s more of a display piece. I’m sure our cat, Fisichella, marvels at it when she sees it on the closet shelf, right next to the ball cap from the inaugural Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that I had autographed by most of the drivers at the event. At the same race, one fan collected some used brake rotors that one of the Grand-Am teams was discarding. He lugged around a pair of steel brake rotors all day to get IndyCar drivers to sign them. While I think that would be a very cool piece to have, the event cap was much lighter and easier to carry.
The funniest incident that I recall regarding fans and racing memorabilia was when I attended my first NASCAR race at Pocono in 1999. When strolling back from the vendor area to our RV, we were behind a guy rolling a used Goodyear somewhere, presumably to his campsite. Having never seen this before, I was curious, so I felt the need to ask him about his purchase: “What are you going to do with a used race tire?”
“Hiiide it from mah wiiife”.
Thinking about it, that would have to be my answer, too, despite my wife also being a race fan. That’s a line that I couldn’t get away with crossing, although we’re still discussing a coffee table made from a V8 engine block.
I’m fortunate to have met a fellow race fan in Kevin Paige a few years ago. In November 2011, Circuit of the Americas was under construction and race fans in the region were buzzing about the possibility of Formula One coming to our area. A Facebook group for supporters of F1 in Austin and Circuit of the Americas held some meet and greet events in the year and a half leading up to the inaugural USGP.
I went to Austin for one of these meet and greets, and my timing could not have been worse. In November, one year from the penciled-in date on the Formula One calendar, the race was in doubt. The promoters hadn’t paid the sanctioning fee to host an F1 race at that point. The track was still under construction, and everyone knew that Formula One was the lynchpin to all this. If the sanctioning fee wasn’t paid and there was no F1 race, then the circuit probably wouldn’t get completed.
So this particular gathering wasn’t as excitement-filled. There was a pall over the crowd because everything about the race we wanted and hoped for was in serious question. Kevin was setup inside and did a live painting, which was given away as a door prize. Since that night, I’ve been an admirer and envious of his artistic ability, stopping short of a trip to MSR Houston to see his paintings that are on display there.
Kevin Page expresses his love of motorsports through his art. Be it watercolor, oil, pencil sketch or digital art, he has the ability to capture the visceral experience of thoroughbred racing machines being driven properly in a static image. He says he tries to capture as much of the non-visual experience of motorsport in his paintings; the sounds, the smells, the excitement in the air, and so on. I certainly get those sensations from his work, as well as the emotion that racing presents, from determination to exasperation to the most joyous highs to the most crushing lows.
Not only has he chosen motorsports as his primary subject for his painting, but he has been able to parlay his talent to do commissioned pieces for teams, drivers and individuals within the Formula One hierarchy. You don’t get that level of access without being good at what you do, and with art quality being very subjective you need real talent for your work to be universally regarded as “good”.
Since the inaugural race, Kevin Paige has hosted Pole Position, a gallery exhibition to coincide with the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. This year is no different. The exhibition will be held Saturday, November 1 at The Palm Door on Sabine Street. The venue is a short walk from the downtown Austin entertainment area which is typically closed to traffic and includes all manner of race-related entertainment, promotions, games, giveaways, concerts and the like.
I went to the inaugural Pole Position exhibit in 2012, not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, not just by the open bar! The people there were friendly and race fans, for the most part. My evening was spent talking racing and SEC football, as students or alumni from at least two SEC schools made mention of my Auburn National Championship shirt. There was music and food and friendly people and quality conversation with top-notch art on the walls surrounding us, which is pretty much the perfect atmosphere for a race fan to hang out.
I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!
– John Cleese as The Pope, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”
Considering I was trying to keep a weekend at a Formula One race as cheap as possible, Kevin Paige’s Pole Position and Will Buxton’s drunken karaoke were the only two events outside the track that I specifically wanted to attend. Neither event disappointed! I’m also not an art expert by any means. I couldn’t tell you impressionism from realism. I can tell you what I find aesthetically pleasing to me, and Kevin’s paintings certainly do that. One of these days, I will have a Kevin Paige original work on my office wall.
If you have plans to attend the United States Grand Prix this year and want something to do but can’t afford Paddock Club access, then Pole Position may be the perfect event. It’s low-key compared to many of the entertainment and exhibits associated with the Formula One circus,with a great atmosphere and people. Oh, did I mention that it’s FREE? You can hear our interview and race discussion with Kevin Paige in episode 252 of the Open Paddock podcast. Give it a listen, and be sure to see the results of his talent and passion at http://kevinpaigeart.com.
Feature Image Credit: “Thrust”, watercolor on paper, 2014, Kevin Paige.