Way back when, in a time when the only auto racing that ever appeared on your Television screen was shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, sandwiched in between the national Badminton championships and Sumo wrestling, I can still remember something that I heard on the local TV station. It was after the Indy 500, sometime in the mid to late 60’s, best as I can remember. The announcer was giving a couple of one liners about the race, and then announced the winner’s share of the purse, around 200 grand I seem to recall. Then he said; ”……..and that’s a pretty good payday for driving a car around in a circle for a couple of hours.” The other talking heads predictably shook their heads with suitably derogatory expressions mirroring their college’s disdain. Of course local TV sports anchor’s are the very worse jock wannabees, and that attitude, one can sense, really has not changed much over the years. For the most part, the sport is still ignored…unless there is a tragedy, of course. Then the bubble headed beach blond might well follow the mantra, “if it bleeds it leads”, and gurgle something about a race somewhere that, for all she or her colleges know may as well have taken place on Mars. To quote the immortal Rodney Dangerfield. “I can’t get no respect here, no respect at all.” Lets take a quick look at this phenomenon
To many casual observers of our sport, auto racing looks easy. That is especially true of the couch potato racing fan. Or the stick and ball jocks. They still use the time worn phrase, “they are just driving around in a car, anyone can do that.” Or…..”that looks so easy”. How often have you heard that? And how much auto racing coverage does your local TV station give? Have they ever mentioned your local short track? That toothy, grinning beefcake jabbering about basketball, showing a half full area built with 100’s of millions of dollars of public tax money is a jock wannabe who hates what we do, and can barely hide it. While there are some exceptions for sure, the average jock, amateur or professional, has little respect for our sport and I have always thought there are several reasons why.
Have you ever noticed how many athletes crash their cars? Whether or not alcohol is involved or not. Back some time ago there was a high end paint and body shop not too far from my foreign car garage I had in Hollywood, FL. They did great work there, and it became the place to go for the Miami Dolphins, as well as other stick and ball jocks that lived in the area. The automotive carnage that was in that shop on a regular basis was unbelievable. Everything from simple fender benders to major collisions, all done on some of the worlds greatest cars. Most of the players cars got wrecked over and over again until they were discarded for the next crashmobile. As a car guy, it broke my heart to see the disfigured Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s there on a regular basis. Many were the casual sort of accidents so easily avoidable. Most all of the larger accidents were the sort that comes from loosing control and creaming your car. For whatever reason(s) it seems that the skill sets that are used to hit a ball, throw one, run thought defenders, etc are not the same skills that give a human being the ability to four wheel drift a F1 car in the rain at 175mph…lap after lap. Or hurdle into turn 3 at Atlanta inches away from a fellow competitor at 200 mph…. lap after lap. Rim riding at Knoxville Raceway also comes to mind, and in 100 years just how many men have drank the milk at the Indy 500? And if you want to see something truly eye-popping, look up Isle of Mann TT and see if you can catch some on-bike footage somewhere. Its an incredible skill set that is necessary for sustained automotive and two wheeled competition at the highest level, one that is not shared with many other athletes in other sports at all. The stick and ball jocks sense this, and being rather self centered, they do not like this at all.
However, this is something else that factors in here. And while I have never heard anyone ever say this out loud, this one cuts right to the core. There seem to be some who really dislike the sport, it’s almost a visceral reaction. Personal, as it were. And this one goes way back to everyone’s formative years, the high school days. Remember the hot chicks back then? The ones everyone always had a ‘crush’ on? Ever notice who they generally were with? Hint, it was not necessarily the school quarterback. More often than not it was the guy with the cool car. Reality: Chicks dig guys with cool cars…and that would mean FAST cars. And if the guy built it himself, so much the better. See, while throwing a ball around is certainly a noble skill, I think that the ladies understand that making a fast trip to the hospital, perhaps with a pregnant passenger riding shotgun, without getting killed on the way might also be a noble skill. Not to mention changing a tire on a deserted stretch of highway at midnight. Or being able to do a quick repair in the heat of the blazing sun. These are very much real world skills, and they are respected, maybe at times on a subconscious level, but respected by some nonetheless. It seems that being a car guy can has its rewards. Like everything, that has a flip side, and there are those among us who, while they might not be able to articulate it, very much resent that fact. I personally think it goes way back to the formative days when a jock would take to the field, and, after leading the Fighting Flying Squirrels to an upset win over the Terrifying Terrapins for county pigskin domination he watched his blond hottie ride off into the sunset with that grease monkey from shop class in his home-built, candy apple red , Boss 302 Mustang. Or, instead of fawning over his exploits on the field, the girl he wanted spent her Saturday nights with that little short kid who sits behind him in math class, 110 lbs soaking wet, who is leading in points at the local short track in the Late Model division. Or was wheeling a sprint car around a dirt bullring, while the hot chick that he wanted and her girlfriends hang out in the pits of that scrawny runt. Throw in not being able to drive fast without creaming dad’s car, along with being a clear and present danger to anything automotive with a wrench in their meaty hand, and you have a recipe for a lifetime of intense dislike. And never mind what the effects the Female gender of racecar drivers have on the jocks nowadays! See, it does not matter if you are a jock, or a computer geek, a budding lawyer, or the next great plastic surgeon, the cool girls are going to be with the guys with the hot cars and especially the guys who can handle and control them the best every time, it’s the law of the jungle! Exciting, thrilling, and oh so practical, cars and racing push every button we possess as a special way that nothing else can. Because only auto racing blends primeval skills of competition, reflexes, courage and just plain guts with the cutting edge of the technology that our modern lives depend on. Throwing a spear, running with…say..a large inflated leather ball, hitting an object with a chunk of wood, even riding a horse well are not the skills of modern life. While we do love to watch the modern gladiators compete, the skill set is about as relevant to modern life as the horse and buggy is today. Of course, the high school jocks have always had their followers as well, and some of them grow up to become….you guessed it, local sportswriters and sports TV anchors, who, after all these years, are still bashing those car guys and racers who got their girls.
So when you hear a jock, or anyone else for that matter, attack auto racing in general, followed up inevitably on race car drivers in particular, casually take a look at what they happen to drive. Odds are it will be some dull and boring soulless transportation module of some sort. Or some bling encrusted ‘hotrod’. His garage, if he has one, might have a cheap little Home Depot tackle box with some cheap tools with nary a scratch on them, but that is. The man has been neutered, and does not even know it, yet strikes out at those who live life to the fullest. I suppose we should be thankful, where would we put all of those folks if they saw the light and headed to the track? Many do not, and will not ever understand what this sport contributes, what it takes to succeed at any level, in any and all capacities. From the kid pushing a broom in the race shop after school to the Jimmy Johnson’s, Steve Kinser’s, Michael Schumacher’s, and everyone in between, all are a breed apart. As the great Earnest Hemingway said, “Auto Racing and bullfighting are the only true sports, everything else is just a game.”