Takuma Sato knew how much his Indianapolis 500 victory meant to his Japanese fans. “This is going to be mega-big,” the driver said Sunday. “A lot of the Japanese fans are following the IndyCar Series and many, many flew over for the Indianapolis 500. We showed the great result today and I am very proud of it.”
But for Terry Frei, an award-winning sports writer for The Denver Post, all that celebration meant nothing. Frei hopped on Twitter to express his discomfort with seeing a Japanese man win America’s most prestigious auto race. Here’s a screen capture of the tweet, via Michael Whitney:
Frei apologized for the tweet and even provided a full explanation about the emotional stakes he’d invested into Memorial Day and this race’s symbolism. Too late.
Frei’s explanation was about what Memorial Day and, by extension, the Indianapolis 500, mean to him. His story of his father leaving for the war and losing friends along the way was something many Americans can relate to.
As he says, “72 years have passed since the end of World War II.” Sato is 40 years old. There’s a chance even his parents were born after the war ended. Every country in the world has its share of ugliness in its past, and conflating that with a single race-car driver from 2017 is ridiculous.
But Frei also lost sight of the true history of the Indianapolis 500. The race predates not only World War II, but also World War I. The first Indy 500 was in 1911, and the idea was to create a race for the world to come compete in. That 1911 field included drivers from all over Europe, as well as an Australian driver who failed to qualify. By 1913, three of the top five finishers were from Europe.
Sato is the first Asian driver to win the Indy 500. His victory should come with open arms, not closed fists.
Frei, who has written eight sports books and worked for The Sporting News, the Portland Oregonian and the defunct Rocky Mountain News as well as the Post, has not commented on Twitter since his dismissal