Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Real Question in Motor Sports

Well, Kevin Tressler has replied to discuss some of the similarities, and the more important differences in modern motor sports.

Kevin rightly states that the

…primal drive of any motorsport involves harnessing as much of man's modern automotive technology as possible to propel a car of some sort to speeds that would boggle the mind...

However, with respect to your first similarity, the difference here between NASCAR and the NHRA versus many open wheel series (e.g. Formula 1, Champ Car etc.) is that the applications of the technology is so different. That is to say that Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, and Pontiac have almost nothing to do with technology that’s being put into those cars.

Whereas Toyota F1, BMW Sauber F1, etc. all are actual subsidiaries of their manufacturer parents. Toyota actually uses a Toyota power plant in its Formula 1 operation, and they routinely have conferences with the engineers in Japan who design and work on the engines many people drive daily. In the Mazda Star series (a minor league of American open wheel racing), they actually use the rotary engines that are found in the Mazda RX-8.

Compare that actual use of technology with the complete disconnect of the operations that are done in NASCAR and the NHRA. Do you think that John Force or Dale Earnhardt’s engines have anything to do with Ford or Chevrolet?

In your first point of similarity, you get the motive of wanting to go fast right, but each motor sport does it quite differently, and it’s the lack of actual manufacturer input that makes the NHRA and NASCAR that much more disingenuous.

You’re right again with your second similarity. As with any business, it’s about turning a profit and proliferating the brand. However, as I just stated, the NHRA and NASCAR do so disingenuously. The motto in the 60s and 70s was to win on Sunday and sell on Monday. But in today’s world, there is no reason for me to believe the Ford in the showroom has anything to do with the vehicle that competed in the race.

In contrast, look at the Speed Touring Car Challenge, or better yet the WRC. Not only are the manufacturers directly involved (like Formula 1), but these are actual cars that someone can purchase. Even in the WRC, they contain a “Group N” category that constrains anyone from making any modifications to the cars other than tires and safety equipment.

In terms of entertainment, this is how businesses in motor sport turn the profit. But let me tell you that there’s a reason why the rest of the world refers to NASCAR as “tin-top”, “taxi”, “fish bowl” racing. As much as American’s can’t understand road-course racing, the feeling is mutual from the rest of the world towards NASCAR. The venues are made for spectacular crashes. As I posted quite some time ago, its entertainment value is driven by the same arguments that preside themselves on Judge Judy.

But this is where the NHRA is far superior over the field; complete interaction with the drivers at events is unbeatable. Although, I would say that the other major series have reasons to protect their drivers from what would be a mob of fans or ill-wishers.

To your differences. The differences in format cannot be debated. In terms of performance, the numbers do speak for themselves, but I ask you about the real-world applications. And as I have posted in the past:

Essentially, it’s all about hot rods from the 50s and 60s. Meaning that, present day application is only applicable for people who like to work on their 50s and 60s hot rods.

The WRC cars continue to develop better all wheel drive technology and better chassis developments. Formula 1 has greatly improved our valve spring technology, let alone the advances in the union of computers to our vehicles.

Kevin says:

I assume you all to be intelligent human beings and you could easily research this on your own. I'm more interested in highlighting what I believe are the inherent cultural differences among the various motorsports.

Isn’t the disparity in each region’s use of technology a cultural difference?

I’ve written about women in motor sports before. And there is no argument from me on your take on women in motor sports. The NHRA has far and away been the more equal playing ground for women.

As I wrote above, you’re also right about the marketing of the drivers in the NHRA. They’re much more available to the fans.

In terms of the actual person that the NHRA attracts as a fan, the statistics don’t lie, and I only wish I could find the numbers for Formula 1 in America. And this is where I’ve been trying to lead to all along. What makes the entire world love Formula 1? And conversely, what makes America hate it so? My own thoughts on that question lend towards realizing that the US has always had always shown disdain towards many sports adored by the rest of the world (soccer, tennis, and hockey). But why? What makes Americans so different?
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