Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Motor Racing - sport or spectacle?

Arising from my post last week about use of safety cars and full course cautions, I had a bit of an email exchange with Janos Wimpffen - author of Time and Two Seats and more latterly the set of four picture books entitled "Open Roads and Front Engines", "Winged Sportscars and Enduring Innovation", "Spyders and Silhouettes" and "Monocoques and Ground Effects". All of which are expensive, but worth it.

Anyway, our discussion was about the different approach in the USA and Europe. Motor Racing in the USA has always been much more about entertainment - and for this reason full course cautions get used more often. European racing has traditionally been a story of technical advancement, with spectators welcome to watch, but the race not being interfered with for their benefit (particularly).

Janos wrote to me:
That goes back to the dawn of racing whereing the sport was considered to be a platform for participants and manufacturers in Europe but a matter of spectacle in the U.S.

I replied:
can it "always" have been so? Surely motor racing started as an indulgence for those fortunate enough to own a motor vehicle and unfortunate enough to meet another such going in the same direction? A bit like wealth - but watching people get rich didn't ever get popular for some reason. Watching people race cars is entertaining, for all manner of reasons. But at some point, someone in America decided to make a spectacle out of it. And from that point on the sport entered the arena of public entertainment, and had to be "manipulated" to ensure that its entertainment value was maximised, not unlike many other US sports.

To which Janos's response was:
Of course there were no roads in the modern sense at the turn of the last century, but the European networks were far more developed with routes reaching back to Roman times. Also the distances between major centeres was far less than in the U.S. Thus when the auto emerged there were ready made routes for use wheter for rich boys with toys or for manufacturers.

The distances in the US were and remain great and the only inter-city transport was rail (by contrast with today where rail is nearly extinct). So there was little opportunity to have point-to-point races at the dawn of the auto age, although a few significant events did take place.

This gap plus interest in the new tech created a vacuum filled by entrepreneurs such as fair ground operators to use the ample space to build oval circuits, attract paying spectators and offer prizes.

And I think that's right. Thanks to Janos for his insight!

No comments:

Post a Comment