Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's Your Favorite Kind of Racing?

It's really the first discussion to have, isn't it? You need to know if you're talking to an open-wheel fanatic, an oval-lover, a NASCAR diehard, a rallying afficionado, or some other breed. Not that you (or we) can't be more than one at the same time. But it sets the stage....

TAMMY: I'll come right out and say it. I don't get ovals. Open-wheel is OK, but my heart is with sportscars on road courses. Even sportscars on street coursees. But ovals ... sure, I'll watch them ... but I don't understand the appeal.

SIMON: From a spectator's point of view I get ovals. People want to see the whole track to take in all the action and ovals provide that. Most of the tracks in the UK are shrouded in trees and you get to see one corner, maybe two. Brands Hatch's "Indy" circuit is probably the only track in the UK with a clear view of the whole circuit. But as a driver, I'm with you, I'm a road course boy. Road courses have personality and that goes a long way with me. I'll drive a sports car, but I'd prefer open wheel. I hate the additional weight sports cars carry compared to a single seater. It's such a drag in comparison to a formula car that weighs as much as Blooming Onion at Outback. I'm all about power to weight and the less weight the
better. I do have a soft spot for rallying too. I always to be a rally driver, but I found I was better on tarmac than dirt. But the unpredictability of a rally stage that varies from moment to moment is the ultimate driving experience.

TAMMY: Rally drivers are nuts. Bonkers. Loopy. I mean, I sort of get it? But there's no real course, there are spectators everywhere, and you're highly likely to run straight into a tree. You people are nuts. But really, my fundamental problem with anything that isn't sportscar racing is single classes! Boring. Look how much fun it is to watch the strategy and the passing and the (controlled) chaos of multi-class racing. Two to five classes of cars on course at the same time, crazy speed differentials? Awesome. Just look at Le Mans last weekend. Awesome! I think multi-class racing requires an extra level of skill in planning on the driver's part that I find really, really cool to watch.

SIMON: I hear what you're saying about rallying--and what's your point. Everything you've described is awesome. Unpredictability of the the course, elements and the spectators is what makes it the ultimate driving challenge. Sounds like heaven on earth. I get what you're saying about multi-class racing. Some of my fondest memories of driving was 'mixed testing' where they'd let everyone and everything out on a track at once. So I'd be out there in my Formula Ford up against F3, Sports Prototypes, 911s, Ferrari Challenge cars, every kind of sedan based championship. It was organized chaos. The great thing about it is that you got a feel for how cars measured up. My Formula Ford could outlap most sports cars, but Sports Prototype could beat me on a 1/2 mile straight with a 1/4 mile head start. So I get it, multi-class racing is exciting. The downside is who's leading? It can get confusing for the spectator. And who really cares who wins in class. It's all about who's first over the line. Class matters when you're in the big one.

TAMMY: Hitting a tree, Simon! That's my point. So now you're saying the "ultimate driving challenge" is cheating death? I thought this racing was a sport (or maybe it isn't, but that's another blog topic), not just a means of proving manhood by outwitting death. I see your "who's leading," and toss it back to you: how can you tell who's leading in IndyCar or NASCAR or any single-car class when they're all lapping each other anyway--and when the cars all look the same? In all racing, you've got a leaderboard on-site or in a banner across the screen or the television coverage is focusing on the leader. At least in sportscar racing, you're watching cars that look different. And class wins don't count? You going to tell Ron Fellows that his Le Mans (class) wins didn't count? Sure they count. Sure they care who wins in class, especially now when some of the best racing is happening in the GT class. Sportscars, baby! At least the cars look different.

SIMON: No, I'm not saying it's cheating death. I'm saying rallying has an extra component in that you're not only racing the field, you're racing the elements and a literal changing playing field. Now that's exciting. I'm telling you most people aren't going care as much about a class win than the outright winner. That's a fact. You tell people that you were 1st in class, but came 18th overall. People will want to meet the guy who came 1st overall. I can always tell who is leading. It's a Jedi thing. You wouldn't understand. :-)

TAMMY: I see, Obi Wan. What about the rest of you? What kind of racing is your favorite?


  1. I have a split personality here: I'm a roadracing guy myself (just returned from a great weekend at Lime Rock, one of North America's best tracks), but a big NASCAR fan. Yes, I myself prefer to turn both left and right. But what many non-NASCAR folks fail to grasp is the astonishing skill of the drivers. They drive at ten-tenths through every corner, making infinite minute corrections to keep their 3400-pound cars on skinny little tires off the wall. They make saves at 180mph all day long.

    But the single biggest appeal of NASCAR is the non-stop passing. As you both know, passing in most roadrace and open-wheel series is far too rare: the cars are so even, and the aerodynamics so fussy, that passing is damn near impossible without gimmicks like the ones Formula One is screwing around with this season. In NASCAR, by contrast, the passing never ends.

  2. Well, the issue of Formula 1's gymnastics to produce interesting racing is a topic for another conversation, because I think it's absurd. But I hear you. In fact, I'll post my opinion on the appeal of NASCAR on Monday. :-)