We Race on Sand, but Will Racing Last as Long as the Ocean?
It’s hard to look at this computer screen right now, because when I look over the top of it, I see two large windows looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, and I say to myself, “Look, you numbskull (there’s a hopelessly dated word), how could you possibly be staring at a computer screen when you have such an incredible alternative view – a view that you only get to see once or maybe twice a year?”
Even on a dreary, gray day, it’s still the ocean, still beautiful
I have no good defense for doing what I’m doing, except that the view inspired a thought that I’ve decided to write down:
Going to the beach has endured in the technology era when many other traditional recreational pastimes haven’t. It’s timeless. How could racing achieve a measure of that timelessness, and why hasn’t it?
Yeah, maybe that’s a really dumb thought. After all, the ocean is God’s creation, part of the nature of things, and racing is a man-made thing that’s constantly changing. Talk about apples to oranges.
Still, racing is human athletic competition, and that’s been going on since Og challenged Grok to see which could throw a rock farther. Some forms of competition have withstood the test of time, too. Track and field events – with a tweak here and there – have been going on for thousands of years; they were established enough that the Greeks created the Olympic Games nearly 2,800 years ago. Horse racing has existed since about half an hour after humans first learned to ride, and games involving hitting something with a stick or throwing it at a target likely go back even farther.
Racing, on the other hand, grew from a technology that’s less than 150 years old, and that technology continues to change, creating a challenge for continuity that running or javelin throwing don’t have.
Maybe horse racing would be the best comparison. Humans have been riding horses for about 5,000 years, so sports were bound to crop up around that close connection. Then came a major change, the automobile, and horses went from being essential to transportation, agriculture, warfare and lots of other things to just being part of our leisure lives. The sport of horse racing, I would argue, survived only because it had become so identified with gambling (it was an easy sport to place a bet on). Polo became a rare, niche sport, and jousting disappeared save for exhibitions.
Could racing’s fate be like one of those?
“Strike Two” against racing could just be how much nearly everything changes sooner or later. For every track and field event that still exists, probably several have disappeared (like pankration, a Greek Olympic boxing-wrestling hybrid – the UFC of its time), and while football remains very popular (as does rugby), countless other “move-the-ball” events disappeared. At one point, churches competed against one another in a mob-like version of football that involved moving a greased ball across the village toward each other’s church.
Here’s another depressing thought: racing grew in an era when greenhouse gas pollution wasn’t the issue it has become, and noise was more tolerated as well. Could racing become socially unacceptable? Many of the “extinct” sports involved animals, which never benefitted from the experience. (The sport in which a sling was used to see who could toss a fox the farthest isn’t even the worst of the ones I read about.) That kind of thing just isn’t allowed, anymore.
If all of this makes the current NASCAR situation seem like the least of our problems – to whatever extent you think it is a problem – that’s kind of my point. I’ve written often about the death of the car culture but looking at this broader context makes that seem just the tip of the iceberg.
So is there any hope?
Well, for those of us already trudging through geezerdom or within sight of it, the comfort is that nothing drastic is likely to happen until we’re having a heavenly cold one with an idol of our youth and asking about that Saturday night he went from fifth to first in the last two laps.
For younger fans, though, things will have to change, and our role will be to accept or accommodate those changes in the interest of the long view.
Specifically: internal combustion engines likely have to go, along with the noise they create. Some of the action might even have to become “virtual.”
That’s not comforting to me, but if somebody can create vehicular racing that meets the needs and the norms of generations to come, then at least there might be a future for the sport . . . and what those who are no longer around think of it won’t matter.
Baseball doesn’t have an exceptionally long history, but it’s been played in a form we’d recognize for at least 150 years. That doesn’t mean that a fan from 1870 would attend a 2020 game and come away raving about it, though. That fan likely would bemoan the ball having gotten smaller and the pitcher no longer pitching underhand, or a batter no longer being called “out” if a fielder catches the batted ball on one hop . . . and the fan of the old days likely would go ballistic over players wearing gloves.
But the game survives and seems to be thriving. I hope the same set of circumstances can be developed for racing to keep it going another century or more . . . even if it never catches up with the ocean and beach.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
Writer and Eastern Museum of Motor Racing Librarian Stephen Bubb wrote recently in Area Auto Racing News of talking with a racing writer who bemoaned the distance that has grown between drivers and media over the years. “Back in the day,” the writer said, those covering the race had to run down drivers individually to get quotes about the event, or possibly sit in on press conferences.
Today, those media members seldom see the drivers and get quotes printed out by a team’s public relations representative.
At one point, the number of people covering races all but necessitated this practice, but today it just makes the drivers seem as canned as their quotes, and I still maintain that loss of personality has really hurt the sport.
Back in the day, we knew which drivers were funny, which were temperamental, which were shy, which struggled with the King’s English, and so on. Today they’re all just smiling faces.
Does that make you want to see them race?