Motorsports? Not A Fan

Heresy? Perhaps.

Whether its WRC, Formula 1, CART, DTM, or NASCAR, I have trouble getting excited over watching someone else drive. Nor do I understand how anyone enjoys football, soccer, hockey, or baseball on television. It’s like a video game without the interactivity and control.

Baseball has a handful of positives. The stadium experience cultivates a sense of civic pride and the activity level on the field is so sparse it gives plenty of time to socialize, enjoy the weather, and drink overpriced beer. Same for college football — the young, inebriated crowd is the primary source of excitement. The game itself has too much stop and go.

Basketball gets a bit of a pass since it’s high-scoring and constantly moving, and hockey tries to compensate for the boredom with physical confrontations. Rallying also has its moments — the high jumps, the deep mud, and the epic crashes into people, trees, and farm animals.

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Last month’s issue of Automobile Magazine covered a rallying event up north. The writers took three luxury convertibles, top-down, to Michigan in the dead of winter. A local racing enthusiast recalled a story:

“Deon Rice, who hasn’t missed a Sno*Drift since the inaugural event in 1973, is at Parc Expose with his four young sons and his dad, Jerry. They don’t watch from designated spectator areas, instead setting up their own stations along the course. Rally America asks fans to view the event from six designated spectator areas — five of which have no admission fee — but with 132 miles of competition roads, it’s impossible for rally marshals to stop devoted fans from finding their own spots. “We hide behind trees and stand four feet away from cars going 80 mph,” Deon reveals. “While we wait for the cars to come by, we target-shoot BB guns and twenty-twos.”

“When Pastrana hit the deer, we were on the stage waiting for him. We knew something was going on because he hadn’t come through. After the wrecker went by with his car, we walked down the stage, found the deer, dragged it back to our campfire. I had a pocketknife, so I processed it right there.”

“So, you took the deer home?” I ask.

“No, we ate it right then and there,” Deon responds, clearly annoyed to hear such an ignorant question from a downstater. “Cooked it over the fire and went back to shootin’ guns and watchin’ race cars.”

It’s a great story, but I hate to admit as an auto enthusiast that I neglect to understand the appeal. I’d certainly attend if someone invited me just to say I did it, but it’s nothing I’d otherwise endure Michigan winters for. There’s the sounds, the sights, and the smell of fuel, but I can’t imagine enduring that much misery for a few moments of excitement. I suppose that’s the essence of being a fan, enduring a bit of misery for a few moments of glory.

I’m willing to concede that maybe it’s a defect on my part. I don’t comprehend the heroism of racing drivers or the risk and training involved. Additionally, television makes it all look so easy and slow. 150 mph is far slower on a 32” television than it is behind the wheel.

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In Bob Lutz’s latest book, “Car Guys vs Bean Counters,” the veteran BMW, Ford, GM, and Chrysler executive explains his lack of interest in manufacturer-sponsored motorsports. Lutz believes they contribute little at all to an automaker’s bottom line.

For example, an “Impala” built for NASCAR is so far-removed from the sedan sold at Chevy dealers that customers are unlikely to make the connection between the NASCAR vehicle and the rolling appliance they rent at the airport. It’s difficult to imagine anyone taking home a V6 Impala simply because it bears a loose [VERY loose] resemblance to the decorated stock car they saw racing on Sunday.

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Arguably, NASCAR participation could be considered a form of marketing for Chevrolet, increasing the brand’s loyalty and notoriety among millions of racing fans — NASCAR is America’s fastest-growing sport. But that justification seems to lack substance when cars like the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, both entirely lacking in performance credentials, manage to sell so briskly on the simple notion of value, and their turbocharged powertrains are far more powerful and fuel-efficient than the 3.8L OHV mill that powers most Impalas.

[The 2012 Impala did finally receive GM’s 3.6L DOHC VVT V6.]

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