I was raised in a baseball family. I think we were St. Louis Cardinals fans. I’m not sure why; we lived in southwestern Colorado. Actually, now that I think back on it, it was more than just baseball. We went to college basketball games each week, never missed a minute of the Super Bowl, and always took in the Kentucky Derby. Growing up, I only heard my father swear twice: Once when he cut through a live wire with his Swiss Army knife trying to fix a lamp (he was a college professor, and as a general rule college professors shouldn’t be allowed access to sharp objects), and the second time when he shocked me at a hockey game by standing up and shouting at the referee, “Dust off your $%&#@ glass eye, ref!”
Mom still follows baseball, which leads to many baffling conversations between the two of us. When she starts talking about blue jays and orioles, I think she’s giving me the rundown of the action at the bird feeder in her front yard. Imagine my shock when suddenly a diamondback shows up. Then a tiger. Followed by a draft dodger, some pirates, a giant, and a bunch of Indians. About the time I think I need to check mom’s pill box to ensure that she’s not doubling down on her meds, I realize that we’re not talking about the bird feeder. We’re talking about the World Series.
You see, unlike the rest of my family, I didn’t get the sports gene. It plum skipped over me. I got my mom’s blue eyes, my dad’s beard, but that whole sports thing? Nope. Now, my sisters did get the sports gene, proof that the love of sports has no connection to gender, but no sport ever held even a flicker of interest to me.
No sport, that is, until I got exposed to the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
And even that wasn’t love at first sight. The first time I took in a Red Bull, it was in person. And I didn’t even go for the race. I went for the pre-race party. But as I was there anyway, I decided to watch the race. It was OK, I guess. But it didn’t strike me as much of a race. I mean, seriously, the planes flew one at a time? What kind of race is that?
Now for perspective, I gotta tell you about the timing of this. I had already decided to try my own hand at air racing for reasons I can no longer recall, and I had joined SARL, but I had yet to fly my first race. So I was completely innocent of, and ignorant about, my hidden competitive nature. Inheriting my mother’s sports-fan gene: Nope. Inheriting my mother’s highly competitive nature: Oh yes.
My point here is that I had yet to be swept up in air racing. But sometime after I was racing myself, I stumbled on a televised Red Bull Air Race, and found it to be a hell of a good show. The problem was that it was on an obscure third-tier sports channel, in the middle of the night, with no seeming connection to the actual race—in terms of schedule—so finding it was hit and miss. I’d watch it if I found it, but I didn’t really follow it. Not, that is, until we got a DVR. Now, like Captain Kirk talking to the Enterprise’s computer, I could simply speak into my TV remote (crazy, huh?) and say, “Record Red Bull Air Race,” and damn if it wouldn’t do it.
After that, it didn’t take long for the whole family to get hooked on the Red Bull. After all, it’s a highly digestible sport. Unlike the National Championship Air Races in Reno—which is an excellent spectator sport—with Red Bull, there’s a limited number of racers to keep track of, and they are all pretty interesting. Plus, rather than being a single packed week once a year, the Red Bull is a series, about once a month or so for a good part of the year, like other types of league sports. The photography is awesome, the venues are amazing, the rules are clearly explained and easy to grasp, and, of course, it has airplanes with smoke systems. And inflatable pylons that burst when hit. What’s not to love?
And with the DVR, we could plan a day to watch it when we could all gather together. And planning ahead, we could, Super Bowl-style, plan parties around the races. Parties with hot wings, deep fried mozzarella sticks with marinara dipping sauce, pinwheel sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, potato skins, potato chips with sour cream and onion dip, corn chips with fiery queso dip, guacamole, veggie platters, crustless baloney sandwiches, fortune cookies, and for liquid refreshment, taking a page from Reno, we drank Basque Specials: 50% red wine, 50% diet coke.
And that was just the menu for our first Red Bull Air Race party. Granted, it was over-kill for five people.
But like any other sports fans, we got better, and we learned to create a more reasonable pile of food to sustain ourselves as we shouted and cheered from the edge of the couch as the race planes roared around the pylons. We got so swept up in the series that we even took up drinking Red Bull energy drinks.
Photo: Lisa F. Bentson
That was last season. At the start of this season we decided for our party to serve foods from the host country of each race. As race day for the season launch closed in, however, my Captain Kirk computer wasn’t working. “No results found,” said the DVR, day after day.
I finally emailed my media contacts at Red Bull, and was told that the only way for people in the USA to watch the races was on the internet. Bummer.
After kicking around our options, we decided to attempt to stream the race on my mom’s big screen TV. We cooked up an Emirates feast (thank you, Google) for the season kick-off at Abu Dhabi, re-arranged her living room furniture, mixed up our Basque Specials, and sat back to enjoy our favorite sport.
Five seconds into the opening credits, the streaming video froze. Then it pixilated into electronic chaos. Our rural internet was not up the to the challenge. We dejectedly ate our saffron-infused Kabsa and drank waaaaay more red wine and coke than usual, mom’s blank big screen TV dominating the sad little gathering. Little did I know at the time that no amount of red wine and coke would drown my sorrows over the next chapter in the Red Bull Air Race, because, as you probably know by now, Red Bull has kicked their Air Race to the curb.
On May 29, forever in my book to be known as Black Wednesday, the headline at GA News read, “Red Bull calls it quits for its air races.” I was stunned. Then it got worse: Not only did Red Bull back out, they slashed the season to a mere three more races, and canceled the American race altogether. Later that same day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who had been pestering me daily to buy tickets, announced it would be issuing refunds.
So now I’m a newly discovered sports fan without a sport to watch. And with my own Race 53 sidelined for a second season, I’m also a competitor with no competition to compete in.
I guess I’ll have to watch a baseball game. Or maybe not. That little dirt mound in the middle can’t compete in my mind with a swaying 82-foot orange and white pylon.
And after all, I didn’t get the sports gene.