I have a friend of mine, Tom Davey, who says road racing is dead, at least in North
America. Too bound by tradition, he claims to see the need to change. I argue that
if it is dead, then what about the IRL and CART, or even Formula One. After all,
when compared to the ratings for the American Le Mans Series on Network TV,
neither IRL (with the exception of course, of the Indy 500) nor CART comes close.
And, as for F-1, the ABC network was happy to leave that to cable’s SPEED after its
brief flirtation with putting Bernie’s single seaters on its air a couple of years ago.
But, all that aside, I’m left to wonder if what I’m really doing is fooling myself. In
fact, I left to wonder if we in road racing aren’t each fooling ourselves when we talk
about how far back our sport has come from the abyss of the mid 1990’s. What
we’ve done is save ourselves from drowning, an accomplishment to be sure, but
have we progressed much farther than that? Are we still prostrate on the shore,
gasping for breath while others get on with their business?
Like dude, whoa
Davey, himself one of the better Formula Ford drivers to have ever raced,
maintains that today’s youth finds our sport confusing and boring because it is
unnecessarily complicated. “How,” he says, “do you explain to a teenager, not
familiar with the multi class system that the guy running 15th, is actually winning
his class?” And, there’s the problem. We seem to have become a world that
wants simple, easily understood answers, and, oh by the way, can we have them
now if you please.
Many of you will decry this trend, and while I agree with those of you who do, the
fact is that what Davey is saying, is the reality we live with. Complications are out,
simplicity is in – like it or not. Road Racing needs to get in sync. Indeed, it needs
to get an overhaul. Take for instance the Trans-Am.
The racing’s not bad, the cars are fast, but the fact is that today’s Trans-Am is
irrelevant. When it began the Trans-Am was aimed at the muscle cars of the day,
and enticing people to purchase them. This past year, the Trans-Am was a Jaguar
parade with a few Corvettes and Mustangs thrown in. The trouble is that while
those are muscle cars, they’re not the “hot” muscle cars of the present era. For
those one needs to look to the Pacific Rim to the Toyotas, Hondas, et al – none of
which were to be found in the 2003 Trans-Am.
At least the Trans-Am got a rock concert group as a sponsor, which is a step in the
right direction. Yet, for some reason road racing, while proclaiming itself open to
new ideas, appears more wedded to keeping the old ones alive.
As I write this, I am sitting in South Florida, where once the high and mighty of the
sport were shocked by the plans of a Cuban American named Ralph Sanchez to
run sports cars through the streets of downtown Miami. Although today considered
a genius, at the time most in the sport thought of Sanchez as being on the lunatic
fringe. What would have happened if Sanchez had not persisted in his efforts to
make his dream a reality? Clearly he moved road racing forward when others
would have harbored themselves in the safety of repeating what they were used to
We talk in the sport of creating new stars, and yet, for the most part, we are
unwilling to give youngsters the chance to show what they can do, unless of
course they have the money to pay to make it happen. On occasion, there is the
exception to the rule. But, for the most part, sports car racing at its highest level is
dependent on retreads and rich kids. If it is to grow, to get up and off the beach, it
is going to have to develop its own, new stars, and do it soon.
Hot is hot, and at the moment, even though there are many who would wish it so,
and a number who are trying to make it so, road racing is not. The time has come
for a fresh approach, a new beginning that precludes nothing, and explores