Racing comes in all forms.
You could say a drag race is almost like a carrier-launch. Get everything right, punch the throttle, and be sure to pull up exactly as you reach rotation speed. Get it right, and it’s a perfect run.
There’s the entry-level stuff like time trials and time attacks. That’s like intercepting a squadron of big fat bombers as they enter your airspace: take off, acquire targets beyond sight using the targeting computer, and punch off a handful of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. Fire and forget.
You could say that an endurance-type of race for little saloon cars (Sepang 1000km for example) is kind of like flying a B52 bomber into the war zone. Fly a straight path, take it easy, and SAMs come up you punch some chaff. Not a whole lot of terror and drama, with speed, precision and timing still important, and a herculean effort by your crew is imperative to get the job get done.
LMP or GT style endurance racing is quite different though. It’s generally acknowledged these days that that kind of endurance racing is a flat-out GP race, and that’s really no joke. The fittest, most skilful, and bravest drivers emerge heroes, and the teams work flat-out keeping the million-dollar weaponry blasting through the night at top speed.
There is also the flat out precision sniper stuff like Rallying, which I could compare to a night bombing run in an A6 Intruder into the HaiPhong area circa 1973 Vietnam war: searchlights piercing the night sky, bullets flying all around you, flying almost blind and on instruments and guided by your co-pilot/navigator; the pilot has got to keep it steady, stick to the plan, keep a precise path, keep a precise speed, and the team release the bomb load at exactly the right moment. It’s not just skill, but determination, discipline, and above all a cool head.
And there’s the fighter pilot kind of stuff: rolling in the air, dodging bullets and missiles, lining up an adversary for a shot whilst at the same time avoiding becoming bait for another plane. Good sensory perception is imperative.
I quote CDR Mike “Viper” Metcalf in that Man of Man of Man’s Movies – Top Gun:
“During the Korean War, the Navy kill ratio was twelve-to-one. We shot down twelve of their jets for every one of ours. In Vietnam, this ratio fell to three-to-one. Our pilots depended on missiles. They lost their dogfighting skills. Top Gun was created to teach ACM – ‘Air Combat Manoeuvring’. Dog-fighting.”
To me, that sort of sums is all up. You can go fast around a circuit all by yourself, taking the perfect line every time. But throw in 15 other cars trying to do the same thing on the exact same piece of tarmac, and it’s a free for all. It comes down to the driver. It’s a medieval knight charging into a fight on his trusty steed; a fistfight, a pub brawl; like Georges St Pierre heading into a UFC fight, eyes alight and mind searching, probing for an opening to land that one smack that will knock the opponent down! The adrenalin is incomparable, and the victor more often than not dependant on cunning, cool headedness, and strategy rather than raw speed or brawn.
Wheel-to-wheel racing is an Art: the vehicle dances as you sashay your hands over the steering wheel, feet stomping and leaping across the pedals; you manoeuvre delicately, searching for an opening, sometimes creating the opportunity by jinking left and right then plunging and squeezing into the the smallest of gaps! Different drivers dance differently – there are the ballet artists, there are the bullfighters, and there are the ravers (all over the place basically!).
Wheel-to-wheel racing is also a Science: you systematically study your opponents moves, feint and prod a few hypothetical attacks, pay attention to his limits at each thrust and turn, logging the data for the when you set yourself up to take him out – every driver excels or struggles at different turns and circuits according to his personal style; in a nanosecond you mentally calculate the odds of success when you make your move, and when you do so you push the laws of physics right to the edge, and make it stick!
The adrenalin high, the feeling of accomplishment when you chase down your opponent, then spend the next 4 laps trying to out-do one another in this feral high-speed battle for supremacy is quite incomparable. We do it because it’s a drug addiction.
The mass-media love to generalise that racing is about ‘an adrenalin speed rush’. They’re wrong, because the writer has probably never been in a head-to-head confrontation before in his life. Like any other drug, the ‘adrenalin speed rush’ gets lame after a few hits, and you realise that you’re just going pointlessly fast in a powerful vehicle and the only fear is if a tyre bursts at over 200km/h. When you race wheel-to-wheel, the risk increases ten-fold with every additional opponent that’s in the game: you could be knocked out into a wall, you could spin and get T-boned by another car, a competitor could make a wrong move and you could slam into him at high-speed. It’s no longer just Me, Myself, and I. Like a gambler with his money, we go all in with our lives – we play for keeps. It is literally, Do or Die. It’s a gambling addiction, but the stakes are so much higher!
But coming face-to-face with your enemy, your nemesis, your greatest adversary sparks a raw, violent aggression within that requires discipline and taming to make the best of it and outwit, out-drive those that stand in your way. The competition are all your greatest opponents because they are all standing between you and the goal of coming in first and being The Best, Numero Uno, The Big Kahuna. And if you back down from the fight, like a whimpering dog.. you’re a chicken, a coward, a Loser. No man worth his salt will stand for that, so a battle to the very end it is! So we race wheel-to-wheel out of Ego.
It’s also about The Show. We visualise how damn awesome we must look, attempting to out-manoeuvre an opponent by going around the outside of Turn 12, smoking the tyres as we’re late on the brakes, sliding the car on all four wheels in an astounding example of ability. We can imagine the awe and the gasps from the the spectating audience, and the horror on the other driver’s face when they realises they’re going down a position. We race like this because it’s Cool.
Above all, we’re not your usual drivers. We like to be challenged, to push the limits. We like to be in control, right at the outer limit of the vehicle’s capabilities, of our abilities. It’s a passion, a programming of the soul, a pride that has to nourished. It’s what drives us. We’re door-to-door Racers, and a bit of feint, thrust, bump, and grind is all part of the grimy path to be a Champion.
I leave you with this quote:
“I try to explain to folks it’s for the love of the game. It’s what God created us to do. That’s how I was wired up. I had a passion and a God-given talent to drive a race car. Could I have taken another career path and done something different? I probably could but I wouldn’t have been as good or as successful at it.”
Darrel Waltrip – NASCAR Legend
3-time NASCAR Series Cup Champion
Second on list of all-time Cup Series winners (84 wins)