My love for racing developed at an early age. In the seventies and early eighties I had the opportunity to see many extraordinarily talented drivers competing on the National Championship Racing Association circuit at various dirt tracks throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Although a regional series, the level of competition was unsurpassed. Drivers such as Harold Leep, Roy Bryant, Jay Woodside, and Frank Lies stand as equals with the best open wheel drivers this country has produced. My choice to become directly involved in the sport was inspired in large part by their skill and artistry.
I believe that too much money and too much technology are the root of (almost) all evil in racing. When traction is virtually unlimited, racing ceases to be a contest among drivers and becomes a contest among machines. Speed has always been expensive, but when the car is doing all the work, the cost/benefit calculation tips far in favor of those with the deepest pockets. Some people who worship the machinery like it that way, but I think the majority of race fans just don't understand what's really going on. The end result of this process is that Stefan Gregoire has an Indy car ride and Steve Kinser doesn't; that journeyman driver Mark Kinser gets in the best car and suddenly starts winning Outlaw championships. I do hate what wings in particular have done to our sport, but the real enemy is unregulated technology. Eventually, even non-winged cars will become slot cars if we fail to control the onslaught of new technologies. Technologically sophisticated items such as electronic traction control, driver-adjustable torsion stops and driver-adjustable shock absorbers are already in use, and even more advanced developments are sure to follow.
The only solution for this situation is to take the excess traction away from the cars, then change the engine rules to reduce horsepower to a safe (but still extremely fast) level. The proof that this formula works in the real world is found in NASCAR. Stock car racing is riding a massive wave of popularity precisely because NASCAR had the foresight to maintain a reasonable degree of control over the technology. The result is a meaningful test of driving skill and closer competition. Unfortunately, in most racing organizations the teams with the most money effectively control the rules, and history has shown that they are rarely willing to make any change which reduces their competitive advantage. Most racing promoters are too concerned with trying to make a profit right now to even think about what's in the long-term best interest of the sport. NASCAR paved the way for its incredible growth by being the only major-league racing organization which had both the foresight to hold the technology down to a level where the driver is still a critical part of the equation, and the marketing savvy to capitalize on that fact. I want to make it clear that I am not anti-technology. What I believe is that we must learn to set firm boundaries which allow for innovation and at the same time steadfastly preserve the integrity of our sport.
The first tentative step taken in the direction of the good of the sport by a major player has been the formation of the Indy Racing League by Tony George. The IRL is at least promoting oval-track racing, and it has brought the cost of competition down to a somewhat more sane level. Current IRL cars are only a slight improvement over CART machines, however. They're still essentially glued down, ground-effects machines. It remains to be seen whether the IRL will have the courage to make more meaningful changes, such as taking away the vacuum cleaner bodywork and putting the Champ dirt cars back in the series. Maybe I'm naive, but I still have hope that real racers can eventually win out against the techno-freaks and millionaires.
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Last updated 02/23/01 by Michael Ramsey
Copyright 2001 Michael Ramsey