Fast Forward to Racing in 2030
I could never have afforded a ticket, but thanks to that contest by one of NASCAR’s Premier Partners, here I am at the 2030 Daytona 500. I don’t know that I expected to still be alive in 2030, much less in attendance at the “Great American Racing Experience Spectacle,” but here I am.
My seat pod launches me from the Jimmy Johnson Interactive Tower staging area up to my seat, high above the track, which I can see clearly through the screen that serves as the front of my enclosed and climate-controlled seating area. Special packages (“activations”) of goods and services from the Premier Partners cover most of the screen for now, but I can clearly see the schedule for today’s events – and for the related wagering opportunities. Robotic scale cars circulate throughout the seating area, offering food, drink and experiential pharmaceuticals, plus enhanced versions of the viewing helmets we’ll wear.
Fortunately, my prize package covers the cost of many “extras” that will be available throughout the day, and my level of wagering will earn me credits toward others, but I intentionally didn’t bring that much cash, and I’ve vowed to avoid that “ATM” scanner next to my right-hand joystick.
What kind of extras am I talking about? Well, for instance, there’s the helmet that puts me inside a drone over the track, allowing me to move along with the field and get pretty close to my favorite driver.
I just want to keep my experience simple. After all, it’s enough for me to be at a race where there aren’t any real cars (although my seating is deafeningly noisy, and the whole building seems like it shakes when the field virtually passes by. That screen in front of me, along with all the helmets, joysticks, touch screens and other gear, create a virtual race that’s influenced both by how the drivers respond on their interactive eTrack layout and how fans – like me – influence the outcome. I don’t understand any of it, but then back when cars had motors, I couldn’t change a spark plug, either. They say that there’s so much input from so many different places – drivers, fans, sponsors, officials – that the outcome can’t possibly be predicted in advance, so the wagering is totally legit.
That’s what they say.
Part of what makes this popular is that much of my experience doesn’t even affect the outcome. I can see my race run with traditional, hydrocarbon-fuel-powered vehicles, electric ones, or ones with hydrogen or rocket power. I can even submit a vehicle design in advance and affect what the racers look like. And – for a price – I can be one of the virtual drivers. No thanks.
Some of this stuff we already have, so the key to “progress” will be how we make it part of a virtual “real thing” that merges fantasy and reality well enough that we’re willing to pay for it.
I should try a few new things, though. After all, they say it’ll only be another year or so before the “SportsWorld” Virtual Chambers are available for home use, and then we won’t even have to go to a track – it’ll all be recreated right there for us.
All this makes me a little sad that I haven’t been to a race in so long. I missed the last race with drivers actually in the cars – as opposed to controlling them from a remote location – in 2025, and the last race that actually used vehicles on the track in 2028. I remember the first race I ever attended: a dirt track, where I set on the second row – OUTSIDE! – and got filthy, watching guys in beat-up cars with screens on the front to protect the radiator from rocks. No comfort, no table service, no opportunity to help design the race and its outcome. Tickets were only $5, plus I had to have my London Fog jacket dry-cleaned afterward. A different world, for sure.
They called it stock car racing, and we knew what that meant. After all, we had cars then.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
While doing some last-minute Christmas shopping the other day, I ventured into a once-very-popular mall. I remember when you couldn’t find a parking place in its huge lot around Christmas; this time I parked one row from an entrance.
Inside, somebody was trying to video Santa dozing off in his empty wonderland. The biggest line I saw – three people – was at the soft pretzel kiosk.
It occurred to me that, along with shoe stores, men’s clothing stores, book stores and Radio Shacks, all these malls used to have a NASCAR collectibles place. Running one of those places must have been a really fun job back them.
I really hope somebody’s bright ideas help bring NASCAR racing back, but I’m afraid the NASCAR shops are gone for good.
I apologize for this being a kind of “downer” piece, especially since it’s being written for publication the week before Christmas. I do hope that you are lifted up by the true meaning of the season and that the last few days of 2019 are as good as any you’ve enjoyed this year.