Bill Oursler On Getting Gassed
I know I’m an old fart. I know this because I’m at the age when aches and pains
prevail, and when I attend more funerals than I do weddings (not that I particularly
like either). Still, as an old fart, I’ve been around a long time in the business of
motorsport, and I’ve seen it change dramatically over the years.
Consider for a moment that five years after the green flag dropped on the 1967
Monaco Grand Prix, for example, three quarters of the starting field was either
dead, or had been forced to retire because of injuries. As we would say here in
America, that is an unacceptable loss rate, more matter what the sport. And, our
sport did something about it. Racing is still dangerous, yet, we’ve spent as much,
if not more money on safety and protecting the drivers and spectators as we have
on going fast.
Today, death remains part of the equation. But, so too does it in commercial
aviation, and like commercial aviation it is a rarity, not the norm. We should be
proud of that, for not only have we saved lives, in doing so we have allowed racing
to become a major player on the stage that is international professional sport. Yet,
as I write this, racing is about to undergo yet another period of re-examination and
change that could substantially alter its very nature, perhaps for the better,
perhaps not, for it has acquired a social conscience.
How very, very, crude….
In the United States gasoline prices this year have soared, and while everyone in
politics and the media is quick to blame the lack of a reliable supply of crude oil,
the true fact is that the U.S. has not built a new oil refinery since 1978. Clearly the
population has grown since; a population whose society is built around the motor
vehicle. Therefore the logical conclusion must be that the shortage of gas (or
petrol for you British) isn’t to be found on the crude oil side of the equation, but
rather on the side where it is refined.
And, how could that happen? The answer is simple; those who do the refining
make more money if they limit capacity, both in the fees they can charge, and in
not having to invest capital in building new refineries, which while beneficial to the
public, might not have such a positive effect on their bottom line. Still our friends in
the oil industry couldn’t pull this off alone. They’ve had help; help which has come
from the environmental lobby which has used the refinery issue to change our
social habits when it comes to fossil fuels.
So, having ranted in print about what I see as something of a cover up, is all of this
a bad thing? Not necessarily. The truth is most intelligent people agree that fossil
fuels are indeed at the heart of the looming global warming crisis. I live in Florida. I
like being on the coastline. What I don’t like is the prospect of being part of the
ocean and not the land. In other words, viewing the coast from the liquid, or wrong
side, as opposed to solid (or mostly so) earth beneath my feet, is not what I have
in mind for my truly old age.
In the bio sphere….
Yet, if the oceans continue to rise as the polar ice caps melt, that is exactly what I
could face. So when Scott Atherton and Tim Mayer from the American Le Mans
Series embrace the use of alternative fuels, in this case ethanol, for their
championship, it gets my attention. And, while it may take several years to get
there, one suspects that by the beginning of the next decade, the ALMS might be
totally propelled by this bio fuel, which could well help me stare out at a view of my
backyard rather than God’s own, and very large swimming pool.
Perhaps more important, than the ALMS’ commitment, is the commitment by the
whole of motorsport from Formula One through the American open wheel Champ
Car and IRL tours on down. In its earliest days motorsport was a proving ground
for the then infant automotive industry. Today, it has become so again. One may
complain that as aerodynamic knowledge has increased, along with a parallel
electronic invasion of the sport, modern race cars have lost that vital individuality
that was at the heart of what made them so interesting. One can’t go back on
either of those fronts: cars will continue to look the same, and electronics will
continue to motivate and demotivate them.
Klaatu…. Verada…. Necktie….
But, underneath as engineers and designers turn their attention to the vastly
differing ways in which the people of the earth face the challenges before them,
their solutions to solving those issues will making the sport not only more
interesting, and more relevant, but could well play a key role in saving the planet. I
used wonder what justification I could use when my mother suggested that I
should find a “real occupation,” rather than one with no aspirations of improving
the society in which we live. Now I have that answer.