Not a Motorsports Guy

Not a Motorsports Guy

I have a confession to make, though it's not something a "car guy" admits easily.

I'm not a fan of motorsports.

I've never really tried to hide this fact from co-workers and colleagues, but I feel I owe it to myself to "come out of the closet." And who knows, maybe my declaration will comfort others who feel the same way but are too ashamed to admit it.

My "not a fan of motorsports" announcement should not be taken as a complete intolerance of auto racing. On the contrary, I've been known to sit through a few hours of SCCA's World Challenge competition on Speedvision (or The Speed Channel or whatever Fox is calling it this week). But my interest in this type of racing has more to do with the aggressive nature of the drivers than with any real affinity for the sport or a specific automaker. Fender-banging is almost assured and the cars still have a modicum of real-world appearance.

That last point gets to the heart of what keeps me from enjoying most forms of automotive competition. Whether it's "Pro Street" drag racing or NASCAR "stock car" racing, the fact that the majority of vehicles in the majority of motorsports competition have nothing to do with what I can go buy at my local auto mall effectively nukes my interest. I've been this way for as long as I can remember. In my late teens, I had pretty quick street car, but some guys in my high school would try to shut me down by quoting Countach or Testarossa acceleration and top speed numbers. My reply was usually something like, "Nah, I think my car is still faster, but I'm more than ready to find out. Mine's out in the parking lot and will be ready in 15 minutes, where's yours?"

The point? Theory does me no good. If I can't experience a vehicle (or even race against it, as in the above example), I don't have much use for it. But motorsports shouldn't feel slighted. This attitude extends to all forms of spectator sports. I've never seen Michael Jordan shoot a basket or Tiger Woods swing a club for the same reason. Generally speaking, watching other people do things doesn't interest me.

There are, however, some notable exceptions to my dismissal of professional sports. Not surprisingly, they tend to be forms of competition that I either already have partaken in or could easily see myself partaking in. Motorcycle racing is a big one. I've owned two Ducatis, the last one being a street version of the World Champion bikes from the early 1990s. And it's not just because I've dragged a knee while riding a Ducati that I'm interested in watching the races on TV. That would be like saying "I like to watch NASCAR 'cause I drive a Monte Carlo." No, in professional motorcycle racing the bikes are not all that far removed from what you can buy at your local motorcycle dealer. The whole "racing improves the breed" thing? With modern street bikes, it's actually true. Sometimes Ducati will even offer a special "works racer" version of its top-end street bike. It's expensive (around $20,000), but it's also nearly identical to what the world's fastest motorcycle racers are using on tracks like Daytona and Laguna Seca. So I watch those races and say to myself "Hey, I could spend $20,000 on a bike (I'd be divorced, but I could), and Laguna Seca is only about a four-hour drive from my house, meaning it wouldn't be that tough for me to actually buy a serious race machine and bring it to a serious racetrack."

Try saying the same thing about the F1 cars running at Hockenheim. Or the "stock cars" running at Charlotte or the Audis running at Le Mans or the IRL cars running at Indy or...

You get my point.

One other area of motorsports holds great interest for me: vintage motorsports — and you can probably guess why. Yup, because, like modern sport bikes, the cars were much closer to what you could buy at the local Chevy, Ford or Dodge dealership. The Trans Am races of the late '60s featured pony cars, and to qualify, the automakers had to produce "street versions" of these same cars. You might know them as the Camaro Z28, Boss Mustang and Challenger T/A. Legendary nameplates inspired by real-world cars made for real-world racing.

Of course, if you really know your motorsports history, you know that the famous 426 Hemi engine was never designed for public consumption. But the National Hot Rod Association got tired of Chrysler beating up on Ford and General Motors with the Hemi, so it decided to require Chrysler to sell at least 500 a year to the public before the engine would qualify for race use. NHRA's thinking was that Chrysler would never do it and the Hemi would be out of contention. Not surprisingly, Chrysler initially freaked out and pulled all of its factory-sponsored cars from competition for the 1965 season. The company was planning on building a couple dozen engines a year and giving them to people like Richard Petty and Don Garlits, not several hundred that had to be fitted with mufflers and chokes. But then Chrysler realized that if it did build a 426 Hemi for street use, it would probably be the most powerful and legendary engine to come out of Detroit. The company was right, plus it got to clean up on the competition during the 1966 season.

And if you want to talk about the ultimate legend in motorsports history, the name GT40 should be plenty familiar. This is the car that came from a personal vendetta between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari after Ferrari rebuked Ford's plans to buy his company. As with the Trans Am cars and 426 Hemi engine, the GT40 race car inspired a limited number of street versions in the mid 1960s — another stunning real-world car born of motorsports necessity.

Looking at the modern world of motorsports, I see little that pertains to average enthusiasts, at least in terms of how the various race cars relate to products they can buy. Audi's third Le Mans win is great for bragging rights and full-page magazine ads, but other than producing a more expensive version of the TT (with special paint and wheels), it doesn't really pertain to anything I'm going to find at my local dealership. Same goes for Ferrari's F1 win (though an argument could be made that the "F1 style" paddle shifter technology found on modern Ferraris, BMWs and the Aston-Martin Vanquish was first tested in F1).

I should clarify that I have no seething hatred of professional motorsports or the people who enjoy it. If nothing else, modern professional racing provides plenty of enthusiasts with entertainment while also making the manufacturers, race teams and (theoretically) the advertisers money. As a die-hard capitalist, I can hardly find fault with that.

But from a personal perspective, there isn't much about it that excites me.

Thanks for listening; I feel much better now.

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