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Committee approach is killing racing

Published July 18, 2012

The mediocrity of modern racing is a reflection of the mediocrity in society, don’t you think?

I ask the question because there is great gnashing of teeth and twisting of hands going on these days in NASCAR-land over how boring many of the races have become.

Except for bullrings like Bristol and road races like Watkins Glen, Sprint Cup races are often enough to put you to sleep. Why? Because the cars are all the same and the engines are all the same and the one-make tires are so good that when the races start the cars pretty much go round and round and round in the same order.

Yes, there will be the occasional pass but the races are frequently won in the pits and/or by the luck of the draw — i.e. accidents.

In Formula One and IndyCar, where the cars and engines are also all the same, the races are won (except for marathons like the Indianapolis 500) by the drivers who start at the front. Do well in qualifyhing, do well in the race. Ho-hum.

F1, in an effort to mix things up, instructed its tire manufacturer, Pirelli, to build some almost-instant obsolescence into the product that would force the drivers to make more pits stops. It took about a minute for the teams to solve that little problem and there don’t appear to be any more stops now than there were previously.

I’m sure the tall foreheads are scheming as we speak about the next step to take in artificially creating excitement.

That, of course, is the problem. Everything is done by committee these days. It doesn’t matter what it is — media, manufacturing, retail, sport, government — there are no powerful individuals standing up any more to steer the ships.

When you get committees, you get quicksand. Look at Toronto city council as an example. Nobody can agree on anything. The President of the United States was once all-powerful. Now he has an Executive Committee.

Once you had Big Bill France and then you had Bill France Jr. and NASCAR racing was great.

Then you got Brian France and Lisa France and Mike Helton and a bunch of other people and they all get to put in their two cents and now the racing is anything but great.

In F1, things started to get mucked up after Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger were killed at Imola. In the interests of driver safety, then-FIA president Max Mosley created a committee, the Advisory Expert Group, chaired by Prof. Sid Watkins. The introduction of the HANS device and other driver safety aids that resulted were welcome but before you knew it all sorts of extraneous regulations crept in, like less powerful engines and so-on, and you suddenly had a situation where, before you knew it, all the cars and engines were the same and how did that happen?

And the stage was set for artificial approaches like tire degradation in order to keep the races interesting.

There used to be giants in this world. I’m not talking about fame, which has been bastardized like just about everything else. I’m talking about giants who through personal magnetism and stature and strength and force of personalty took whatever it was that needed fixing, or built, and shook it by the neck. Or warned everybody to leave well enough alone before it was ruined.

Now we have studies.

This is about racing. Racing was best when there were few regulations and people like Colin Chapman could innovate and experiment and drivers like Junior Johnson and A.J. Foyt had a lead foot and were brave.

Not any more, boy. Not any more.

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