Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Embracing Oval-Track Racing

Oval-track racing is one of the most controversial form of automobile competition. Some adore it, some hate it with disgust, yet it just won't go out of fashion, because - guess what - ovals are the oldest purpose-built tracks in the world. Want to argue with tradition?

The need for racetracks came very early on, as cars were still fresh and new, but people would want to watch head-to-head competition. Surely, there were already Grand Prix races on closed roads, but that didn't really satisfy the needs of the audience and drivers at the time. There were a few problems: roads were bumpy, and a car would quickly dissolve into the vanishing point on an open road.

Since people were pioneering land-speed record attempts, the faster the competition, the more exciting races were. So, if you take a long-long stretch of flawless piece of road, you can push the hell out of the car, and if you take both ends of it and form a circle, it goes infinitely. Plus, the audience can get a great view on ALL the happenings, ALL the time.

Thus, Brooklands and Indianapolis Motor Speedway was born in 1907 and 1909 respectively, and while the former had to close down only after 32 years of activity, the latter is still an living course. hosting - among many others - one of the most prestigeous races in the world.

Americans love ovals, most of their biggest IndyCar, NASCAR and other races are running on the banked turns.

And yes, everything has flaws.

First of all, you just can't race in the rain on an oval. That would be a direct act of suicide. It is just not possible to create a race under such circumstances with cars sliding around, hitting the walls. There would be simply no survivors of such an event after only 20 laps.

Secondly, the problems detailed above do exist anyway, would just be amplified by the rain tremendously. The other direct problem is the great chance of collision. Cars running around in packs at 200mph do open the door for a huge per cent of possibility of contacts, concluding in crashes. The happening that's being exciting for the eye, ruining the pace. Most of the races are series of racing 5 laps, then pacing 5 laps under yellow flag.

The diffenerces in the structure of the races (and hence the mentality of the two worlds) between of ovals and "road cources" are very similar to the ones of American and European football. American football is a fast-pace, full action combat for a few seconds, then strategic mind-game for long minutes. While as European football is more of a "timer has started, just go out and win" sort of attitude in this recpect. Most of the action that's been done on a road course can be squeezed into a few minutes of racing on an oval. People governing NASCAR know this and push the politics of the game into this direction

All this lead up to our most crucial point. Is it fun to watch races like these and is it fun to participate in them?

Referring back to the beginning, attending such an event you get a view like nowhere else. You see all the action, you hear all the roar, you smell everythig. Literally, it is a 360 degree surrounding sense-bombing. Whereas going on TV, it may not be so exciting. Especially when cars are completing their pace laps most of the duration of the races. So, if I had to be at a race and watch all the fun and circus, I would vote for an oval, but would fall asleep watching something like it on TV for four straight hours.

For the drivers? Since ovals are not that demanding for the body, drivers can spend a longer career in motor racing. While Schumacher and Barrichello are old lads in F1, they still may have at least 20 good years in any NASCAR series, and 10-12 in IndyCar.

I do watch oval racing, despite falling asleep eventually, and I still think we need more tracks like these, or similar. The Lausitzring was one great chance that ended up in tragedy, but a European can still watch e.g. the European Late Model Series for a gist of 'merican racing.

In fact, I believe the key in these is their live-audience drawing factor. We managed to find one great solution to get the action. the first one-on-one race of DTM in Munich Olympic Stadium will be held between July 16 and 17. There's an arena, there are the cars, there are turns, it seems all perfect. Two thumbs up.

We might not embrace oval tracks fully, but we will surely get the gist of it sooner or later.

(Watch the webcams on the right and see the track on the Olympic Stadium building. Hopefully we will get a great coverage through it, too.)

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