Role playing time. Let’s imagine you’re Marco Andretti, fabled scion of racing royalty, headline grabbing teenage darling, and IRL driver with the skills and performance to fend off whatever open-wheeled Kournikova curse might be lurking around the next chicane. Now, plop yourself into the well-dampened course at Watkins Glen. Did I mention you’re running the fastest laps on the track and mere minutes from putting that humbling Sam Hornish defeat in the Indy 500 fully behind you? In a word, you are an 800 horsepower stud ready to usurp Danica Patrick and earn your own deodorant deal.
Say hello to Eddie Cheever. You remember Eddie. He put you nose first into a tire barrier earlier this year at St. Petersburg and no doubt leveled some smug, off-handed excuse for the undercutting. Well Eddie’s up to his old tricks again, and he’s ready to take out the frustrations of a lackluster day and cold tires on your NYSE car.
Kretch! You somehow find yourself skidding down yet another tire barrier and emerge from the fracas fist shaking and in 16th place. Adding insult to injury, you just wrecked your dad’s car thanks to a 48-year-old idiot who has still managed to do something neither you nor your dad has, win the Indianapolis 500. Ain’t that a pissah. Your official response, “If he says he didn’t know I was [alongside] he doesn’t belong in this series. Ridiculous.”
Your opinion is justifiable. Your nose just t-boned a stack of Firestones. You’re at the back of the pack. You’re mad. You’re also absolutely wrong about Eddie Cheever. The more ridiculous an idiot he is, the more the IRL needs him.
Ever since the dawn of man, life has been enriched by the presence of an enemy, a foil, a nemesis. Stone age cave drawings depict men hunting great bison and mastodons, not reclining in front of a bookcase for a caveman family portrait. The oldest narrative, Gilgamesh, is rife with opposition for everyone’s favorite Sumerian giant. Call it good and evil or yin v. yang, but try to imagine the 1936 Berlin Olympic achievement of Jesse Owens without the backdrop of an emerging Nazi Germany and Hitler’s quest for a master race. Jump ahead to 1938 when Joe Louis pummeled Max Schmeling in a 124 second rematch even further at the heels of WWII. The miracle on ice, Seabiscuit v. War Admiral, and even IBM v. Apple are all born of the very human need to hate someone so much you’re willing to do whatever it takes to take them down.
That’s your cue, Mr. Cheever.
Eddie Cheever is the latest in a long line of knuckleheads that make our achievements all the sweeter. I myself have partaken in many battles of wit only to be smote by a wiry band of overcooked, overeducated blatherskites. Their victories were genuine, but any time my team was able to best them, even if finishing second to last, it was an event to behold. I was an eye witness to many great Purdue v. Indiana basketball matchups that were made doubly succulent when paired with a Gene Keady and Bob Knight tandem. Once Bobby got drummed down to Lubbock, the rivalry lost a bit of its sheen and the exit of Gene loomed in the offing.
The world needs bad guys because without them good guys would be nothing more than boring showoffs. I give you Michael Schumacher. Had Eddie Cheever not barreled recklessly into Marco yesterday we may have seen a nineteen-year-old with the laurel wreath. However, fate wove a separate ending and the IRL (easily the dominant open-wheel circuit in the US) now has an authentic soap-opera feud that would make the cast of Dynasty jealous and the NASCAR execs weep with envy.
Scout needed Boo. Marco, you need Eddie.
He is an idiot though. No doubt about it.