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DEHARDE: Social Media Abuse is an Embarrassment to Motorsports

Agustin Canapino and Callum Ilott sign autographs at the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Agustin Canapino and Callum Ilott sign autographs at the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Agustin Canapino and Callum Ilott sign autographs at the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Travis Hinkle/Penske Entertainment.

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A simple collision brought out some of the worst of humanity on social media.

During Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Callum Ilott left pit road shortly before an early restart in an effort to stay on the lead lap in the third race of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season. The No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet worked on building up pace and tire temperature with the team’s other car, the No. 78 of Agustin Canapino immediately behind.

Canapino led on an alternate strategy and Ilott was trying to keep from going a lap down. Helio Castroneves, who was already one lap down from an earlier spin and pit road work, was immediately behind the Argentinian and looking to pounce to get back on the lead lap.

Castroneves went around Canapino’s outside as the pair approached Turn 6 on Lap 26. Contact at the corner damaged Canapino’s suspension, causing his car to slow down and creating a logjam that eventually involved Pato O’Ward spinning in Turn 8.

Canapino retired from the race following the contact.

The on-track aftermath of the Canapino-Castroneves collision was some damaged race car components and lost track time. Off-track, however, was an entirely different story.

The 2020 Formula 2 championship runner-up received numerous tweets of varying degrees of disdain from fans, with some death threats thrown in the mix. One of the series’ most promising young drivers had to face a horde of anger from an overly-emotional, terminally-online swarm of people.

What good did those threats serve? Sports can be one of the most emotional aspects of a person’s life. This writer still remembers all of the frustration after the NOLA No-Call in the NFC Championship Game when the Saints played the Rams and the entire city of New Orleans went all-in on hating referee Bill Vinovich.

Ultimately, nothing would come of it. But let’s face it, social media allows people to take things too far in the moment. Upon hearing of the death threats, IndyCar and several organizations in the paddock released statements condemning the harassment.

IndyCar’s statement reads as follows:

“Over the last 24 hours, some of our drivers have been the target of disrespectful and inappropriate online abuse. There is no place for this behavior in our sport.”

“While fierce competition and rivalry will always be a mainstay of INDYCAR racing, it’s important to showcase and celebrate these attributes with ultimate respect and concern for the well-being of our competitors.”

“INDYCAR is a community that should always strive to build upward with support and appreciation for one another.”

How has it gotten to this point? More and more people are not internally reviewing what they say before broadcasting their feelings to competitors online, ramping up abuse in a time when mental health is supposed to be championed.

This isn’t isolated to IndyCar. Go look at NASCAR Twitter whenever Bubba Wallace is brought up and see the abuse there. Hell, look up F1 Twitter whenever Red Bull are leading Mercedes and a certain segment of the fanbase brings up the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and utter all sorts of things about Michael Masi.

Think of the abuse he’s received because that portion of the F1 fanbase can’t get themselves off of the cross they’ve put themselves on, take the wood, build a bridge with it and get over it. Is that abuse really warranted because of an effort to ensure a green flag finish?

If Michael Masi decides that living is no longer in his best interest, would F1 Twitter celebrate his demise? It’s a question certainly worth asking at this point, as a casual observer might think that those people are out for blood.

Regardless, the unblemished sod outside of those people’s homes might need to see the bottoms of some footwear, because a lot more people need to touch some grass. The sooner, the better.

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