My old friend Tim sent me this picture of him practicing down in Florida for the Great American Race Sunday. Every year he goes down to see his family and stands on his sisters roof waving the checkered flag to celebrate the Daytona 500. What a guy.
It got me thinking about car racing, and wondering why in the world people get excited over this "sport". I admit the drivers are some of the best conditioned athletes going, but are they as tough as hockey players? I'm not sure. Are they tougher than golfers? Yes, for sure.
Anyway, it's not about them it's about the cars. The three major racing leagues are Formula 1, NASCAR, and Indy Cars. Now I don't know diddly spit about any of them compared to what I know about baseball and hockey, but I know some basics and have made a determination about which are good and which are not.
I am the definition of casual fan when it comes to racing. I will devote two days a year to watching car races. Sunday, for the Daytona 500, and Memorial Day weekend for the Indianapolis 500. To be clear, when I say I devote a day, what I really mean is that I watch the first ten laps, and the last 20 laps, and check in throughout he rest of the race to see what is going on. I mean, they are just going around in circles, so it's not like anything really exciting is happening, other than crashes.
Formula 1 is the most popular car racing circuit in the world, and, like soccer, nobody in America gives a shit about it. Sorry world but we just don't care.
The cars kind of look like Indy cars, but smaller. They race in the streets of most of the major cities in the world. Paris, London, Monaco, Montreal, and Tokyo to name a few. Like rush hour, but with nicer cars.
From what I have been able to determine about the strategy of this racing, is that, whichever car grabs the lead from the start wins the race, unless they foolishly crash. Sort of like harness racing but less exciting. The few times I've tried to watch F1, as the fans call it, I usually fall asleep by the fourth turn. The drivers are extremely popular, rich, and boring. Don't waste your time on this.
The NASCAR Cup Series is the most popular car racing in the USA. It overtook the Indy car racing many years ago but is losing ground back to Indy cars as many of the most popular drivers have retired. The Daytona 500 is a NASCAR Cup race.
These cars look just like the cars you and I drive every day, with better paint jobs, and a top speed of around 200 MPH, maybe 205 with the wind, downhill. Unlike our cars, they have no passenger seats, how nice would that be somedays, no FM radio, no headlights, and no treads on the tires, so don't even think about driving these bad boys in the snow.
The strategy with this racing is to form two single file lines, with one car at the head of the pack. He leads the race for all but the last one or two laps when he runs out of gas, and Billy Jo Freshface goes screaming by him to win. Because they are so tightly packed, when one car decides to tap the brakes, the result is usually a 12 car pile up behind him. This eliminates about 40% of the cars and opens up the track for the remaining cars. The Daytona 500 is famous for surprise winners on the last lap, so it is the only race you need to watch all year.
Indy Car racing used to be the most popular racing in the US until all their popular drivers retired. Growing up in the Chicago area, Indy Car, and specifically the Indianapolis 500, was the race of the year for us. I can still remember listening to it on radio, yes radio. They would tape delay it, and play it back later in the day on TV, so if you wanted to know who won you had to listen to radio. There is nothing more boring than listening to car racing on the radio, except maybe golf on the radio.
Indy cars are open wheel racing, as you can see above. They just look fast sitting on the track. They will hit top speeds of around 235-240 MPH and are like a speeding bullet going around the track. The drivers need to be the size of an adult Munchkin to fit in the cockpit of the cars.
The strategy in this racing is for everyone to go as fast as they can, driving all over the track, sometimes four wide, and see who survives to finish the race. The last one standing is declared the winner and he, or she, gets to chug a quart of milk in the winners circle, throw up, and grab a beer.
Because the Indy series racing league has a much smaller schedule than NASCAR, it is really important to get wins since you have only a few races to race. This means that there is limited team strategy of blocking and drafting, unlike NASCAR, where two teammates can literally tie up an entire race and never let anyone get by.
In Indy car, while you have a teammate, maybe, your interaction with him is mainly giving him the finger as you go speeding by. As for the other drivers on the track, your main goal is to pass them and then try to run them off the track at the same time. "Oops! I am so sorry I clipped your rear tire as I went by. I hope your broken arm gets better soon."
You almost never see a lead change in Formula 1 or NASCAR, but in Indy car you see two lead changes on a lap sometimes. It is way more exciting than the other racing and if you will only watch one race, make it the Indy 500 in May.
So there you have my race car racing schooling for you. If you follow my advice, and watch only the two races I've suggested, you will enjoy car racing both days, and don't have to invest anything in the way of following drivers, or teams, like football. You can just sit back, enjoy an ice cold beer, and wait for the Triple Crown series to get started. I'll bring you up to speed on all you need to know about thoroughbred racing later.