By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In the fifteen years since this column made its debut in Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999, racing has had many, many highlights. Memorable races, incredible duels and monumental achievements have stood out. I'm not going to list them here, but suffice to say we all have our favorite moments to savor and remember. We've all witnessed how great this sport can be. And we've all witnessed how painfully tragic and horrific it can be, too, unfortunately. It wasn't named "The Cruel Sport" on a whim, remember.
That racing has soared and crashed in lockstep with whatever else was going on in the world economically cannot be denied. Racing sucks up money at a most prodigious rate, and that roller-coaster cadence of feast or famine is likely to continue.
It's no secret that racing has undergone a fundamental transformation over the past fifteen years as well. Back in that very first issue, when I proposed sweeping changes to the way racing went about its business, eyebrows were raised and people scoffed. But it was clear to me that the onslaught of runaway technology had swallowed the sport whole, reducing racing to a game of never-ending restrictions. And I have made it a consistent refrain in this column ever since.
Managing technology by adjusting the rules packages for the various racing series so that the cars will qualify and race within a certain window of speed has become the driving force of the sport. And to me that's sad, because racing needs to be and should be much more than that. Developing new technologies and creating engineering breakthroughs must be the primary quest of racing. And not just the purview of mega-million Formula 1 budgets either, but even the most modest of new technologies should be able to find their way into every level of the sport in some way, shape or form at this juncture.
As I've said in previous columns, I am absolutely convinced that unless the top level of major league auto racing returns to its role as a place to develop future innovations and technologies, then the sport will continue its downward spiral and become just another "packaged" sports entertainment entity, nothing but a piece of content in the giant, orchestrated programming matrix signifying not much of anything to speak of. Yes, of course, some entities of the sport have already achieved that notoriety, but the rest of the sport is moving inexorably toward the same dark place.
A cynical perspective would suggest that the future of the sport is already decided, that the lack of interest from the new entitlement generation and the cacophony of the media-entertainment landscape are relegating the sport to smaller and smaller pieces of the pie, with only the signature events - Le Mans, Indianapolis 500, Monaco GP - enduring on the annual sports calendar as transcendent events, with the rest of the sport surrounding those events getting lost in the swirling maelstrom of indifference. (Look at the Kentucky Derby and horse racing's Triple Crown and the interest in the sport before and after those major events if you need a a glimpse at a future scenario for auto racing.)
And it's hard to argue with that perspective too. After all, it's easy to shrug and say that racing is what it is, and nothing will ever change. The people who like it, like it, and the people who don't, don't. Yet, there's still an emotional connection to racing that's hard to deny, and to give in to total doom and gloom about the future of the sport seems to be selling racing short.
Even after all of these years of writing this column, attending races and immersing myself in the sport, I find that racing is still worth it. The controlled ferocity of the machines while drivers wrestle with them at spectacular rates of speed is still mesmerizing and a sight to behold, no matter what form of motor racing you care to follow.
And as long as that fundamental attraction exists, there will be plenty to see and write about in the future.
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
(Photo By Dave Friedman, courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Le Mans, France, June 12, 1967. A.J. Foyt Jr., Carroll Smith, Dan Gurney and Homer Perry discuss strategy during a pit stop in that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Gurney and Foyt's momentous win driving their No. 1 Shelby American Ford Mk IV remains one of the most hallowed achievements in American racing history.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD