Racing, Feeling Life In The Fast Lane
Automobile Racing is considered a sport, but to me, it has ten times more excitement, unpredictability, and amazement than any activity that I have participated in.This passion originates when drivers race specially designed automobiles over tracks or courses of differing lengths, designs, and constructions. It tests the skills of the drivers, the speed capabilities of the vehicles, and the endurance of both. Automobile racing, which originally consisted of occasional challenges among wealthy individuals in the United States and continental Europe, has evolved into an international year-round professional sport. I feel that it is one of the most popular spectator sports in the world, with races run before millions of fans at events with wide coverage on television.
Like stock cars, some sports cars appear to be street cars, commonly carrying manufacturer names such as Porsche, Ferrari, and Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW). But, as in stock-car racing, the resemblance to the street cars that are commercially available ends with the appearance. Sports cars also are extremely sophisticated racing machines built to run at high speeds over distance. American sports-car racing is generally a slower and less sophisticated form of racing than European sports-car racing. However, it is also less costly, and the organizers, owners, drivers, and teams are more attuned to the marketing needs of the manufacturers, who are trying to sell street cars, tires, and components through the publicity that comes from being associated with the competitions.
Automobile Racing Basics
There are three basic types of race courses in automobile racing. The first type, the oval track, which can be dirt, asphalt, or concrete, can range in length from 0.16 to 2.5 miles. Some oval tracks, longer than 1 miles and highly banked, are called superspeedways. The second category of track, the road course, comes in two different forms: courses that are created by temporarily closing off city streets, and courses specially designed to duplicate the driving conditions of country roads but only used for racing. Road courses of both types are generally 1.5 to 4 miles long in the United States, although in other countries some are longer. The third type of track, the straight-line course, is a simple strip of asphalt or concrete used for drag racing. Straight-line courses are generally 0.25 miles long, but they can be 0.125 miles long as well.
There are five basic components of an automobile racing team: (1) the owner, (2) the team manager, (3) the driver, (4) the support crew, and (5) the sponsors. The owner of the car is the head of the team, but usually employs a manager to run the team on a day-to-day basis. The driver is always an independent contractor. Drivers may compete in cars of several owners throughout their careers. The car owner also employs a support crew, which maintains the car before, during, and after races. The driver and support crew work together during races as the car needs repairs, tire changes, and fuel refills. When a driver stops during a race to allow the support crew to service the vehicle, it is called a pit stop. Finally, sponsors, usually corporations, provide money to the racing team and in return can use their association with the team for commercial purposes. The most obvious examples of this relationship are company logos, which advertise the products of a car’s sponsors and are commonly seen on the outside of vehicles during races, but companies also use racing as part of public relations, marketing, entertainment, and employee relations programs.
Although there are many categories of automobile racing and many types and levels of competition within each category the major forms of the sport differ in the United States and abroad. In most parts of the world, the premier race series are those for Formula One (F1) vehicles and for sports cars. These competitions receive less attention in the United States, where the most important race series are those for Indy cars and for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) stock cars. Some drivers and teams move between American and overseas forms of racing, but this is uncommon.
The coordinating committee for automobile racing in the United States is the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), located in Northbrook, Illinois, which serves as the U.S. representative on the F d ration International de l’Automobile (FIA; International Automobile Federation), the worldwide governing body over the sport. ACCUS coordinates activities between FIA and six major sanctioning bodies in automobile racing in the United States addressing rules, regulations, automobile specifications, safety, and other related matters. The organizational members of ACCUS are IndyCar, NASCAR, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), and the United States Auto Club (USAC). USAC, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, sanctions a wide variety of automobile races, including the Indianapolis 500. For information on the other sanctioning bodies, which focus on specific forms of racing.
The biggest problems in automobile racing both in the United States and internationally are caused by the costs of racing competitively. Drivers receive large sums of money from team owners, and the cost of building a car capable of winning is often enormous, up to several hundred thousand dollars. To win a racing series, such as the Indy car championship or the Winston Cup, requires several million dollars for salaries; construction; engine-rental, and maintenance payments; and other related costs. With revenues from large corporate sponsorships, the sale of television broadcast rights, and the selling of public stock and other financial procedures, creating a team capable of winning is possible. But, in recent years, operating profits for series and racecourses have diminished, with increasing operating costs, increased costs of meeting government regulations on insurance and environmental codes, and higher taxes in such forms as local levies on ticket, parking, and concession sales. Corporate sponsorships are threatened by the condition of the overall economy.
Another issue is the dizzyingly fast rate of technological change possible in automobile racing. Early in the sport’s development, race cars changed gradually, often with years intervening between significant innovations. Over time, however, technological change accelerated, as it became increasingly common for competitors to actively seek technological superiority, if only for a short time. This search is legal, but costly, as research, technical staff, and implementing change itself (requiring the physical construction of new cars or components) add a great deal to the cost of running a race car.