Yesterday's horrific crash at the Daytona International Speedway reminds us that even today motor sport can be dangerous in the extreme... and not just for those bold enough to take the wheel of race cars.
I have often been called upon to explain why I find stock car racing fascinating. Most Brits turn their noses up at this very American phenomenon, finding it distinctly odd that spectators should be drawn to the spectacle of automobiles looking very much like those encountered in the daily traffic jam driving at insane speeds in an anti-clockwise direction on oval tracks with a maximum of four corners.
But there's more to it than that, as I learned in the late eighties or early nineties. At the time my client was the channel Tele 5, here in Munich, and the task was to produce quick-turnaround German versions of magazine programs from the United States. One of these programs was a weekly show devoted to NASCAR action. Slowly I found myself cheering for my preferred driver... yes, it was Dale Earnhardt, who died following an accident in the Daytona 500 race in 2001.
Indeed twelve drivers have been fatally injured at the Daytona Speedway over the years. Does that make those of us who would claim to be NASCAR fans ghouls? I think not. Watch stock car racing a few times and it becomes clear that the competition involves amazing subtleties...
"While being in front of all the other cars would seem to be the ideal position to win a race, there are aspects to racing that complicate the matter. Cars behind the leader can maneuver very close behind the first car, forcing the car in front to do all the work of being non-aerodynamic... allowing the cars which follow to have a greater fuel efficiency. If the trailing car moves in even closer, it can disrupt the airflow of the lead car to the point where the car in front will lose down-force on the rear tires. Without down-force, the car acts like an airplane wing and loses traction with the track and can no longer maintain its previous speed. This is a technique often used immediately before a pass attempt. Additionally (later in the race), the lead car will often have to contend with slower cars which are being lapped. Choosing when to make breaks for the front and when to stay back and let someone else do the work becomes a major part of the strategy that leads toward a good finish." [cited from the web]
I have never attended a NASCAR event live. But tonight I am looking forward to the next best thing, a big-screen 'public viewing' organized by my current client, Motorvision TV. Tail-gate party atmosphere in freezing Munich? We shall see!