Last weekend, we experienced what motorsport is all about.
The 50th running of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona reaffirmed that true competition amongst drivers and machines can be achieved when it is engaging and exciting for everyone involved. When the fans are engaged, the drivers, the teams and the vehicles become an integral part of the experience – either at the track or away from it.
After the deaths of IndyCar star Dan Wheldon and superbike racer Marco Simoncelli, there was concern whether motorsport would recover and in what shape they will take in the coming season. Add the sometimes moronic behavior of some of stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, and even the most fickle fan would be spurned away.
Some of the behavior seen in and around the top tier of NASCAR is not unlike what I've witnessed on the same level of the sports I used to enjoy. For every Busch brother, there's a Miguel Cabrera, Chad Johnson and Jean-Francois Jacques making a mockery of the world of sport. It was to the point where I no longer have respect for the game my mother raised me to love – thanks to the likes of Bud Selig, Ozzie Guillen and Nyjer Morgan.
In 1970, I remember watching the Daytona 500 and loved the fact that familiar cars were running around the super oval and great speeds with competition in mind. I was naïve to know the intricacies and dramas that permeated the days when NASCAR's Grand National circuit began to mature towards the Winston Cup. Later that year, it was the Indianapolis 500 with the Brickyard in full pomp and circumstance. It was a time when you gravitated to Mario Andretti and the Unser brothers for USAC sanctioned open wheel warfare.
Those were the days.
Today, I am looking for a new home to enjoy sports in general. Something to augment the Saint Paul Saints of the American Association of Professional Baseball and the Minnesota Stars FC of the North American Soccer League – two of the purest forms of their respective games within reach of home. As an automotive journalist, it would be natural to follow some form of motorsport. I am surrounded by racers and race analysts in my field and they have provided me some perspective and intimate knowledge of various levels of the sport. This helps in framing my knowledge of the automobile world.
But, which motorsport should I truly feel at home in? NASCAR? Though I admire the work of Michael Myers and his team of journalists at Queers4Gears, I am still not on board with the most popular sports entertainment organization in the country at present. I understand the formula at the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series levels, it's not entire attractive to me.
Formula One? Are you kidding? As long as Bernie Ecclestone can weasel his way into complicating the sport any further, it doesn't have the cache that it held when Andretti won the World Driver’s Championship or when Alain Prost ruled the circuit. I will admit that I happen to like Sebastian Vettel…such the anti-Schuey (that’s multiple times World Driver’s Champ Michael Schumacher to the rest of you), if I may add! Still, the circuit is more of a circus than anything. Not my cup of tea…
It’s not Wheldon’s death that has spurned me from IndyCar. Nor it was Danica Patrick’s jump into Sprint Cup racing that caused this rift. It’s the fact that it has not discovered the laws of physics. Banking on curves does play havoc on lighter weight machines. If you go even three wide on a 15 percent bank or more, who knows what will happen to the car? That is exactly what transpired at some of the tracks on last year’s IndyCar circuit. Perhaps the street or flat circuits will help ease the pain of last year’s tragic ending. There’s always the Brickyard on Memorial Day…
That pretty much leaves sports car racing. Luckily, there are two series I could follow – The Grand Am Rolex series and the American Le Mans Series. The one thing about these series is the attainability of the technology used in these competitors. The GT cars are easy – they are exactly the same cars on the street with a few more horsepower and some better geometry for the track. Prototypes use familiar power sources – for the most part. Some are seen as test beds for tomorrow’s technologies. There is honest involvement by the manufacturers in these series – Audi, Porsche, BMW, and Honda are amongst many – to become involved in the racing aspect as well as track-level engineering of the machines they use in battle on the tarmac.
We may not be aware of other series that are not as high profiles as the ones mentioned above. Grand Am and the Sports Car Club of America offer an array of choices for the motorsport fan involving even more familiar competitors. There is talk of a B-Spec series pitting today’s subcompacts on the track. Though you may be at Road America or Watkins Glen for the big names and the main event, there’s a whole weekend of great racing to take in involving everything from older BMW M3s to Volkswagen GTIs. These racers and their machines remind me of the days when the SCCA National Championship meant a lot – such as John Buffum’s white British Leyland racers running around Road Atlanta or Mid-Ohio. The weekend racers with a truck, a trailer and a track ready Mazda Miata – those are the true heroes of motorsport!
This is why motorsport has returned to my realm once again. The idea of testing a driver’s skill in a familiar steed around a two-to-three mile course with trees on one side and a chicane on the other. You could be Elliot Forbes-Robinson, Hurley Heywood, Patrick Dempsey of “Grey’s Anatomy” or AC/DC’s Brian Johnson for one day. You may have an old warhorse with a local sponsor or a team with a huge budget, mainstream sponsorship and a crew of a dozen or so. Motorsport engages fans unlike few sports ventures do. The essence is that we all love to drive and those who take the track on any given weekend are simply fulfilling our dreams.
The fact that the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona's official hashtag on Twitter trended higher than the NFL's Pro Bowl in Honolulu should tell you something about where the real excitement was on Sunday afternoon. Too bad there's not a race happening on Super Bowl Sunday…er, my birthday.
Besides, there's nothing wrong with watching cars go by at speed.