No. 919
October 18, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

@PeterMDeLorenzo

Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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Wednesday
Nov112009

FUMES

November 11, 2009

 

For Love of the Game.

Remarks by Peter M. De Lorenzo to the Milwaukee Region SCCA Annual Banquet and Dinner, November 14, 2009 

Tonight I’m going to ask all of you a question: When did it start for you? Was it that guy down the street in your neighborhood, the one who marched to a different drummer by driving a sports car, an intriguing machine decidedly unlike any you had ever seen before? The one that caused you and your friends to ride by on your bikes and stare because it was the antithesis of the colorless station wagons and sedans that everyone else drove?

Or was it that slightly crazy uncle who’d show up every Christmas in yet another brand-new Corvette?

Or was it the family trip to a see a race when you were a kid, when you were able to get an in-person look at serious racing machines for the very first time, a visual etched in your memory like it was yesterday?

Or was it going to the races with your dad, while he chased his racing dreams?

Maybe it was your own trip to a race later as a young adult, when a mixture of unsupervised freedom and a newly-minted perspective about the world combined with a heady mix of horsepower and speed to draw you in and never let go.

Everyone here has a story of how they fell in love with this sport. The sport that confounds us at times, frustrates us often, makes us sad, glad and euphoric, and usually all on the same weekend too.

For me it was growing up immersed in a fuel-injected childhood, surrounded by auto industry titans and the legendary machines of the late 50s and throughout the 60s that were the conduits of America’s hopes and dreams. Machines that captured this nation’s unbridled, anything-is-possible future in shimmering metallic hues and gleaming chrome, making their presence known with barking exhausts and raucous exuberance.

And then racing took hold.

At first it was a local track in the early 60s – Waterford Hills outside of Detroit – that captured my attention and intrigued me to no end. This was a world that was at once completely foreign yet instantly familiar, an incendiary mix of color, sound and of course, speed, and that would light a fire under me that continues to burn hot to this day.

Then it was Meadowdale Raceway, in Illinois, for the United States Road Racing Championship weekend in September 1964. It was there that I witnessed Ken Miles and Bob Johnson lead the vaunted Shelby American Cobra team to a dominant victory over a gaggle of Sting Rays. And then a few hours later I saw Jim Hall and Roger Penske spank the rest of the sports racer field in their Chaparrals. (A footnote to that event? After he won the “A” production race earlier in the day, the Shelby American mechanics removed the windshield from Ken Miles’ Cobra and performed some other tweaks before sending him back out against the sports racers in the USRRC feature race, where he finished a stunning fifth overall!)

That event sealed it for me, but it was only the beginning. From there it was a meandering journey to tracks big and small. Watkins Glen. Wilmot Hills. The Milwaukee Mile. Mid-Ohio. Nelson Ledges. Blackhawk Farms. Grattan. A long lost airport circuit up in Grayling, Michigan. Lime Rock. IRP. Sebring. Indianapolis. Road Atlanta. Road America, and on and on and on to tracks all across the country and in Canada. Even the hallowed Nurburgring Nordschliefe.

And the journey continues.

We’ve all been there. We all have our stories and our memories and those scenes that will remain forever etched in our collective consciousness and that will never let go. That’s what this sport does to you. It lights a fire and instills in you a passion for it, and it just won’t let you go, no matter how you might try at times.

But what about this sport that we all love? Where is it going? Better yet, where should it go? And ultimately what role will the SCCA play in its future?

It’s no secret that the nature of racing has changed. The explosion of technological innovation in the 60s and 70s transformed the sport, and the run-up of technology was fascinating to watch.

Remember the jaw-dropping impact of the ghost-white Chaparrals with their high wings and their boldly visionary aerodynamic perspective that rocked the racing world?

Or the awesome speed – and sound – of the magnificent McLaren Can-Am cars with the sun glints off of their wings as they roared around Road America in dominant formation?

How about the pursuit of the magic 200-mph lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Or the mighty Porsche 917 Can-Am car, the quintessential definition of the Penske-Donohue doctrine of the “Unfair Advantage” - ?

Or Mario Andretti’s trail-blazing, ground-effect-bending, championship-winning Formula 1 Lotus?

The list is never-ending, right up to the awesome machines of today like the Le Mans-winning, turbo-diesel-powered Audis and Peugeots.

The problem is that all of this brilliant technology has come with a heavy cost.

The blue-sky ingenuity and flat-out creativity that powered racing in its most glorious era have given way to a game of restrictions and rules packages designed to keep the performance of the racing machines in check, because the fact of the matter is that technology has swallowed the sport whole, and the Genie is never going back in the bottle.

I mean, after all, it is said that a modern Formula 1 car can be programmed to circulate any Grand Prix circuit in the world by remote control, without the driver.

Now, the application of advanced remote control technology might be terrific for the U.S. Air Force and their unmanned, hunter-killer surveillance aircraft program, but it’s not racing.

And it can’t be the future of racing either.

What can be done about it? Some say we should pull all of the restrictive devices off of the cars, move the spectators further back, and let the drivers push their unrestricted machines to new limits.

That’s certainly one approach, but IndyCars circulating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway doing 250 mph+ racing laps doesn’t sound like a good idea right off the top of my head.

I, on the other hand, advocate returning racing to its rightful role as the birthplace of technological innovation and the developer of advanced automotive technology. Once upon a time that’s what automobile racing was all about. A guy by the name of Ray Harroun won the very first Indy 500 in 1911 driving his Marmon “Wasp” with a strange device attached to it – the very first known use of a rearview mirror. It allowed Harroun to drive the race without a riding mechanic, which had obvious advantages.

And from that moment on, racing and the development of advanced automotive technology went hand in hand.

Can we get racing back to the forefront of developing advanced automotive technologies? Yes, I believe we can, but it will take a tremendous amount of vision and real guts by some seriously committed people who also have the power to affect real change.

I believe we need to press the “reset” button in racing and start over. By that I mean we need to establish new challenges that will inspire a new level of ingenuity and creativity and foster a whole new dimension of innovation.

Imagine for a moment that the new rules package for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 consisted of a one paragraph statement instead of an inch-thick book. Imagine if everything was “free” in terms of engine design, chassis construction, materials, propulsion, etc., as long as the cars fit into a dimensional envelope established by the Speedway and met the required safety criteria.

And then imagine that every car must average 15 miles per gallon – or an equivalent energy use formula for non-ethanol-powered machines – over the course of qualifying and the entire 500-mile race distance.

Would we have a grid of cookie-cutter “spec” cars showing up for that month of May? I seriously doubt it.

Instead, we’d see a variety of technical applications and solutions brought to the Speedway by a slew of manufacturers - and hopefully some “shade tree” innovators (after all, there have to be a few modern-day Smokey Yunicks out there, right?) - because all of a sudden the same technology that manufacturers and tinkerers all over the world are exploring to meet future mileage and efficiency goals would come into play, and the lure of attempting to win the most prestigious motor race in the world would be icing on the proverbial cake.

As we all well know, there’s nothing like the white-hot heat of competition to accelerate technological development.

You could apply the same sort of thinking to other racing formulas too.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans already places a high priority on overall operating efficiency, but what if the organizers accelerated their efficiency requirements? What if they required new levels of efficiency - let’s say with a sliding scale of mileage increases over a ten-year period – so that by 2020 every car entered would have to achieve at least 20 miles per gallon over the 24 Hours?

I bet we’d see an explosion of technical innovation, the kind that would benefit all of us too.

The same goes for Formula 1. As appealing as it can be – although for me that is occurring less and less frequently these days – you just know a rules package that revolved around delivering a mileage number would transform that genre of racing in a positive way. It may even make the cars look decent again, too, which would be a very good thing.

Even NASCAR would benefit from this new perspective, even though it’s clear that for the brainiacs in Daytona Beach change is anathema.

To say that NASCAR and its ruling France family cabal operate in a parallel universe devoid of any semblance of rational thought or visionary thinking is to state the excruciatingly obvious. How Brian France and his minions have managed to accelerate NASCAR's already alarming pirouette into mediocrity with a numbing combination of non-decisions and a flat-out refusal to do anything proactive that might actually improve their on-track "show" or help position their antiquated, out-of-touch racing series for the future is almost beyond comprehension and will make for a nice Business school marketing class case study down the road one day.

As in how not to do it.

But how could we possibly expect anything else from these Masters of the Oblivious? Why should we expect an immediate rule change to dramatically smaller engines, which would negate the use of restrictors in an effort to bring an aspect of throttle control - and real racing - back to the drivers on the superspeedways? And oh, by the way, why should we expect them to bring overall fuel-efficiency into the equation? Because a move like that would make too damn much sense, that's why.

Remember, this is the organization that just managed to do away with leaded fuel just three years ago, this while the rest of the racing world has been openly embracing alternative fuels for years. (And yet they're still trying to sell the fact that they're all of a sudden "green?" Please.) And this is the organization that still runs carburetors and is just now "investigating" the use of fuel-injection, even though its participating manufacturers haven't used carburetors in production for years and have gone on record as saying that they could have fuel-injection systems up and running in their cars "in a matter of weeks." This is the organization that flat-out refuses to do anything about their death march of a schedule, a slate of events in such a desperate need of a serious re-think that it's laughable. And this is the organization that continues to sell sponsors on the fact that NASCAR is a growing endeavor, while the TV numbers and in-person attendance figures continue to plummet, suggesting otherwise.

NASCAR is an organization still operating in the "we've always done it this way" mode while the rest of the world has been operating in the “what have you done for us lately?" mode for a long, long time. To say that the rational world has passed NASCAR by is a gross understatement. As I've said repeatedly, NASCAR not only adamantly believes in the "not invented here" mindset, they take the madness one step further to the point that if they didn't think of something it must not exist. I don't find this mentality to be "charming" or "quaint" or an example of some benign state of "old school" thinking.

It's just pathetic.

The short story? They need to get back to stock cars. Period. And for purposes of this discussion, that means taking Camaros, Mustangs and Challengers – while putting all the latest safety gear in the stock dimension bodywork, of course – and using production engines with fuel-injection and dry sump lubrication, for starters. And then let them go as fast as they want, as long as they deliver 15 mpg over the entire race weekend.

I might even be able to watch more than the first 20 laps and the last 20 laps of a NASCAR race by then.

I speak to the brightest minds in the automobile business on a regular basis, and what strikes me the most in my discussions with them of late is that despite all the talk of electric vehicles they firmly believe that the internal combustion engine has a long, long way to go in terms of overall development and increased operating efficiency. In other words, we’re going to be driving cars and trucks with ICEs for many years to come – only they will be much more efficient, achieving mileage numbers that would simply have been unheard of just a few short years ago.

The net-net of my point here is that motor racing – in all forms – should lead the development of automotive technology for the benefit of all of us. It did so in the past, and it’s time for the sport to do it again. I would much rather see the latest automotive technological breakthrough debut on the starting grid at Le Mans, Indianapolis or Road America than at a government-funded research laboratory.

And where does this discussion leave the Sports Car Club of America, and all of the enthusiastic people who make up its ranks?

It’s no secret that there are some winds blowing in our society today that are decidedly and vociferously anti-car.

Yes, there really are people out there who think we’d all be better off without our freedom of personal mobility. That if we’d all just fall into that line over there and get on that train to nowhere it will all work out just swell. Or, in lieu of that, if we must be so rude as to actually want to drive somewhere, if we’d just get into our government-issued, Shiny Happy Smiley cars that emit nothing but the faint trace of jasmine as they crawl down the road the world will be a beautiful place again.

To say that I don’t share that view is an understatement, to put it mildly.

People who hold that perspective on things tend to ignore reality. Either that or they tend to create their own reality in a parallel universe that bears little resemblance to the real world. And they also display a streak of “We know what’s best for you and the country so please shut up and we’ll all be better off for it” attitude that doesn’t really fly with the rest of the country. Certainly not with the rest of the country that chooses to exist in the real world. Talking about esoteric concepts in college classrooms is one thing, forcing your will on “the people” to the detriment of the country as a whole veers into a completely different territory altogether.

And it tends not to go over very well with rational people.

It’s no secret that this country needs to do a better job of marshalling our resources, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. The wrong way usually revolves around the irrational, nonsensical and the hysterical, while the right way takes into account the realities of the situation and strives for meaningful and measurable improvements without blowing up our lives to achieve it.

In the real world, the concept of personal mobility is alive and well. People have wildly different needs and demand a countless array of vehicles to meet those needs. Whatever works in a strictly urban environment may not be the best thing to traverse the wide open spaces of west Texas.

And vice versa.

In the real world, for instance, people need trucks, and lots of ‘em – from doing day-to-day work or for recreation and towing – trucks are an indispensable tool in America’s fleet of vehicles.

And in the real world people actually like cars. From wild street rods to exotic sports cars and everything and anything in between, they’re an indelible part of the American fabric.

The freedom of choice is one of the reasons we live here. And the freedom of mobility goes hand in hand with that notion too. Will we all do a better job assessing our vehicle needs and make better choices? Of course we will.

But it’s still going to take a wide array of vehicles to meet the transportation needs of this nation, and the sooner the legislators in Washington and California make peace with that fact the better off we’ll all be.

Now back to the SCCA…

Will the Shiny Happy People eventually turn their sights on curbing vehicle recreation – including amateur and professional sports car racing – because in their view it’s a wasteful exercise that prevents this country from achieving environmental nirvana?

I don’t see it getting to that point, no. Right now it’s too far down their priority list and besides, it will take them awhile to screw up an entire national transportation system first, before they’ll have time to direct their misguided dictates at bodies like the SCCA.

But does that mean that the SCCA can sit back and just react to challenges or wait for the bad juju to be aimed in its direction?

Absolutely not.

The SCCA needs to aggressively move to proactively defend and protect its interests in Washington and around the country.

That means making sure state and local governments understand and appreciate what you do and what your concerns are.

The SCCA has an active membership roster across the country, and each and every one of you needs to act as ambassadors on the club’s behalf. Because to not do so in this age of at times misguided environmental frenzy could be perilous if the wrong scenario gets set into motion.

I know most of you here already do that, but still, it doesn’t hurt to remind everyone involved in the SCCA that your interests and perspectives count, and when appropriate, need to be heard.

I also believe the SCCA should create an alternative fuel strategy for the club as much as it possibly can and as soon as possible. It’s perfectly understandable that for many events at the regional level it’s just simply not workable, but still, a plan needs to be at least considered.

And no, I’m not advocating building more cost into going racing with the SCCA, I’m simply stating that if you could remove pure gasoline from your racing equation and entertain other fuel sources, it would go along way toward diffusing a potentially uncomfortable situation down the road.

But saying all of that, I firmly believe that the Sports Car Club of America has a bright outlook. Whenever and wherever people meet to enjoy high-performance machines in the future, I believe the SCCA will play a strong role in not only making it happen - whether it be solo events, regional and national races, or in pro events – but in helping fuel the passion too.

On a personal note, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing the SCCA national championships move to Road America. I advocated this move four years ago in what turned out to be a highly influential column that got people in the club thinking about the idea.

My good friend Tim Gaffney unfortunately had a bad wreck in “The Kink” at the beginning of the Formula Continental race, which abruptly ended our weekend and put him in the hospital. Tim is mending well and looks forward to being back in a car at the beginning of next year’s racing season. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone here who helped out in that difficult situation. Tim and I sincerely appreciate it.

But one more thing about this, and this is extremely important: Don Knowles sent me a nice note recently warning me that some in the club are advocating running the chicane at Road America instead of “The Kink” for next year’s Runoffs to prevent any more high-speed incidents from occurring.

I’m sorry, but whoever in the club is advocating that needs to sit down, take a deep breath and be quiet. This is racing, folks. And the SCCA’s premier event was moved to Road America for a very good reason, and that is to pit the best drivers in the club against each other on this country’s greatest natural-terrain road-racing circuit for all the marbles.

It’s hard and it’s tough and it’s fast because it has to be. And it should be.

That’s why they call it the National Championships.

So please, let’s bury that notion once and for all, because it’s a very, very bad idea.

And now one last word about passion and your role in this sport.

The SCCA doesn’t happen by osmosis, or survive by people going through the motions, or operate by some unseen inertia that just mysteriously keeps things going.

It thrives because of people like you.

Those long, late-night drives? The sun-up, sun-down slog on race weekends? The details? The logistics? The planning? The tremendous time requirements and personal sacrifices?

It all counts.

Because it’s part of who you are and what you do.

The dedication and passion that you in the Milwaukee Region bring to the table every week on behalf of the SCCA is simply remarkable.

And believe me, it is very much appreciated.

The future of the sport of amateur and professional road racing quite simply rests in your hands.

And that makes me very happy.

Why?

Because as long as you retain the fire and the passion, I’m quite confident that the SCCA will be inexorably linked to the enjoyment of cars and racing for generations to come.

Remember when it started for you?

Of course you do…

Thanks for listening.

 

Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Monterey, California, September 5,1965. The Shelby American Team led by Ken Miles (No. 98), Ed Leslie (No. 96) and Bob Johnson (No. 97) streak into the lead in their Shelby Cobras over a strong field at the start of the United States Road Racing Championship GT race. Miles would win overall that day followed by teammate Leslie as they dominated the GT over 2.0-liter class in the 53-lap race. Johnson encountered trouble and finished back in 16th. Scooter Patrick (No. 34 Porsche 904 GTS), Dave Jordan (No. 31 Porsche 904 GTS) and Kurt Neumann (Porsche 904 GTS) would finish 3rd, 4th and 5th, respectively, one lap behind, while dominating the 2.0-liter class. It was the third win in a row in the event for the Shelby American team. That season, nine USRRC events would be contested at road racing circuits in Pensacola, FL, Riverside, CA (GT only), Laguna Seca (GT only), Bridgehampton, NY, Watkins Glen, Kent, WA, Continental Divide Raceway, CO, Mid-Ohio and Road America (Road America 500). It was in the mid-60s that American road racing transitioned from front-engined GT cars to pure sports racing cars, with the sports racers dominating when the cars would run together in unified fields. The winners that year (matching the races above) were George Follmer (Lotus 23 Porsche), Ken Miles (Shelby Cobra), Miles, Jim Hall (Chaparral 2A Chevrolet), Hall, Hap Sharp (Chaparral 2A Chevrolet), Sharp, Sharp, and Hall/Sharp/Ron Hissom (Chaparral 2A Chevrolet).

 

 

 

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