Racing is a sport that has been misconstrued by many. As a race car driver myself I do not take offense to anyone that does not like racing, because for the most part they are just misinformed or have been given a bad impression of the sport. It is easy for me to enjoy a race, not only because I am a driver, but because I understand what I am watching.
Understanding seems to be the biggest problem for the non-fans to grasp what makes racing an exciting sport to watch. Almost any other sport like football, baseball or soccer is easier for people to experience firsthand. It is likely that everyone in the United States played one, if not all of these sports at some point in school. They can even go to their nearest sporting goods store, pick up a ball and start their own game. In terms of racing, the closet thing the average person has to compare it with is their personal car. But comparing your own car to a race car is like comparing an apple to a banana.
Four tires, a steering wheel and an engine are about the only things the two have in common. There are all kinds of race cars and racing series ranging from the high profile racing of NASCAR to the local dirt track racing of the Modified Lite division I am involved with. Even though the kinds of cars vary from series to series, the basic elements of racing remain the same. Safety and handling are the most important issues that the driver and teams must deal with. There are the same concerns when developing a street car, but in racing these two elements are brought to the next level.
In the cases of NASCAR and the IndyCar Series, the cars are going 200 mph for about three hours (roughly the same time span of a football or baseball game). Due to these facts the cars must be able to withstand any possible impact. A lot of money and time has gone into making this happen along with thousands of dollars in safety equipment worn by the driver. The same goes for developing the handling of the cars. A lot of time and effort goes into developing the cars to handle the high speeds and g-forces through the corners, but even the brightest engineers cannot perfect this. The constant changing factors such as temperature, tire wear and adjustments make it so difficult. This is where the talent of the driver comes in. They need to be able to get the car around the track as fast as they can while dealing with a wide range of handling scenarios, from the feeling of driving on ice to the feeling that the car will not turn at all.
Contrary to what many believe, racing is a physical sport at every level. Trying to control a race car is like trying to keep a raging bull still. It is important to be fit to not only control the car for the period of the race, but to be able to handle any severe impact. Add the heat inside the car and the g-forces placed on the body, and racing will test a driver at every level. NASCAR driver Brian Vickers was reported losing 15 pounds during one race. A driver’s reaction time must be on par with a fighter pilot’s due to the fast and unexpected events. At any moment something could go wrong with the car, a wreck could occur or you could get wrecked. If the driver is not prepared the end result will not be good. Situations like these are not the usual elements you find someone dealing with while driving to work every day.
Unfortunately there is not an easy way for people to experience what driving a race car is like. The closet someone could get is purchasing a ride along experience in their car of choice. So the best way to become a fan is to start watching to understand the sport. Any sport would be hard to follow if the viewer does not understand it or have a favorite team to follow. If the higher divisions of racing like Formula 1, NASCAR or IndyCar are too hard to be taken in at first, then the best way to get in to racing is by checking out the local racing scene. In New York, tracks like Brewerton Speedway, Oswego Speedway and many others provide races that are less than half the length and can be more exciting than a national level race. It is possible to even find someone you know racing there.
-Published in The Oswegonian