The word spread quickly through the paddock Saturday at Toronto: Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato got in a fight and had to be separated after throwing a few punches. Of course the real story about this skirmish between the two IndyCar veterans is that they grabbed each other, mustered up a couple shoves, threw down some cuss words and were instantly separated by veteran PR man Kevin Diamond.
In other words, it was anything but a fist fight, and pretty much standard operating procedure during the past three decades, because IndyCar drivers aren’t fighters — they’re pushers and shovers.
NASCAR’s national renaissance can be traced to the Cale Yarborough/Allison brothers throwdown at Daytona in 1979, but it was still more kicking, shoving and swinging helmets than a bare knuckles brawl. Earlier this season, Clint Bowyer threw a few haymakers at Ryan Newman, still strapped in his car, but the majority of altercations nowadays in motorsports are either finger-pointing, a couple shoves or a flurry of dastardly Tweets.
The closest thing IndyCar has had to an actual fight involved who else but Paul Tracy. After being taken out by his fellow countryman at San Jose in 2006, Alex Tagliani tracked down P.T. in the pits and kept pushing the larger Tracy and ranting in his face. The Thrill from West Hill finally grabbed Tags and slammed him to the ground. Fortunately, Alex kept his helmet on and avoided injury.
Tracy dive-bombed Bourdais on the last lap at Denver that same season and took them both out. Seb made a beeline for his antagonist and what appeared to be the makings of a donnybrook turned into a few shoves and a lot of yelling.
Ryan Briscoe and Justin Wilson traded shoves at Mid-Ohio in 2010 before the diminutive Aussie quickly came to his senses and walked away from the 6’4” Brit.
Danica Patrick marched down to Dan Wheldon after a Milwaukee tangle in 2007 and got in his face before walking away with a little shove, while Milka Duno threw a towel at Patrick at Mid-Ohio that same year.
Helio Castroneves momentarily lost his mind after losing the race on a bogus call at Edmonton in 2010. He grabbed IndyCar security chief Charles Burns, a strapping 6’3” former State Trooper, around the collar in a rage. Burns, thankfully, laughed at the 5’7” Brazilian instead of pounding him into the ground like a tent stake.
In 2007 at Watkins Glen we had a new set of protagonists when Sam Hornish’s dad gave Tony Kanaan a shove after T.K. fed his son a wheel as they entered the pits on the cool-off lap. A couple of melees broke out among friends and family, but Sam and T.K.’s involvement was limited to a bit of shoving.
Now, fighting has always been more reserved for sprint, jalopy and stock car drivers, although A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones were unbeaten during their careers and mostly untested because not many were dumb enough to challenge them. But this era of IndyCar drivers is a good group that hangs out together, and when push comes to shove, possesses little or no desire to fight like school boys. And most have zero experience in that arena anyway.
“Never been in a fight, but I’ve watched quite a few,” said 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.
Of course one reason is size. Zach Veach, Santino Ferrucci, Marco Andretti, Felix Rosenqvist and Sato are all featherweights and know their limitations — most of the time.
“Was in two fights in grade school and lost them both,” said a smiling Veach, who tips the scales at about 135 pounds. “But Sage (Karam) and I did get into it in go-karts a couple times.”
Ferrucci looks to be more of a lover than a fighter, ditto for Marco, and Sato showed a side we’d never seen when he confronted Bourdais. Rosenqvist, maybe 5’6” and 145 pounds, displayed some fearlessness but not a lot of smarts earlier this season. He and Will Power had some kind of disagreement on the track during practice at Detroit. So instead of sending a text or tweet, Felix manned up and went down to ask the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner what he was thinking. Power slapped him on the side of the helmet and the Swede saw something that shook him to the core.
“Will’s eyes got real big and I thought, ‘Oh no, he’s going to kill me,” recalled Rosenqvist with a chuckle. “I’d heard about his eyes, and that was scary. But he came down later and apologized, so we’re all good — thankfully.”
The consensus among the drivers is that Power has no peer on the grid when it comes to defending himself. He grew up in Australia fist fighting on the weekends for sport and sometimes gets the look of a dingo — a wild Aussie dog — when he gets riled.
“Nobody is going to fight Will, he’s crazy,” said Scott Dixon with a grin.
Graham Rahal would seem to stand the best chance, because he’s the biggest driver at 6’3” and 200 pounds.
“I think I might have a reach advantage,” said Rahal. “But I don’t think any of us would want to fight Will.”
Karam was a state wrestling champion in high school and has that I’m-just-crazy-enough-look. “I’ll fight anybody,” he said before making his IndyCar road racing comeback last Sunday. “They’d better knock me out with the first punch though, because I’ll throw them down and put them in a guillotine (a painful wrestling hold).”
As much as we all like a dust-up among drivers every now and then, it’s the on-track fighting that makes IndyCar a knockout.