The only popular "sport" whose "athletes" routinely run the risk of killing or maiming themselves every time they participate. You can certainly argue that one stands a good chance of being killed by a fastball to the head, or by a brutal, spine-crunching tackle, but auto racing is the only sport in America which averages between 2 and 3 deaths per year. Not only that, but they do very little to prevent deaths, despite readily available (yet admittedly expensive) countermeasures. Consider the death of Adam Petty, a 19-year-old fourth-generation racer, killed during practice at the New Hampshire International Speedway. He dies, and then TWO WEEKS LATER, in the EXACT SAME TURN, Kenny Irwin crashes and dies. It's absolutely ridiculous.

While I'm sure that a live event is much more captivating than television, I'm not sure I'd want to take the chance of being decapitated by a stray tire to find out (oh yes, spectators are at risk, too). It appears, though, that the race is a secondary event. It has the same feel as an airshow, where beer and tailgating take precedence. And I have yet to find a NASCAR fan who wouldn't love to see a forty lap caution flag if it was brought about by a horrendous crash. But who knows, check out an auto race sometime. You might just see some crazy lady try to stab Jeff Gordon because "he doesn't give the other racers a chance."

I have a hard time using the words "sport" and "auto racing" in the same sentence... despite what's written in the NASCAR node, racers are NOT athletes. There are certainly some racers who are athletes, but racing cars does not by default make you an athlete. Do they drive at breakneck speeds that would make some people cry in terror? Yes. Do they endure 100+ degree heat over several hours with almost no water? Yes. Must they have lightning fast reflexes to compete in the top races? Yes. But there's one big caveat to that:

The car does 99% of the work.

But it's up to the driver to steer the car... and you need the pit crew to refuel and change the tires and stuff... and the mechanics keep the car tuned up in top condition... Please. I've seen these guys get out of their cars after the race, and yes, they're sweating their balls off, but the car does the work. Let's say it again. The car does the work. With the exception of horse racing, there's no other "sport" in which the human has less of an impact.

Auto racing is by far the most technologically advanced "sport" in the world. I consider this to be a bad thing. At what point are the drivers removed all-together? I mean, you've got to have everyone on your team wired up the ass, and you've got to have the latest tweaks and trends applied to your car just to compete. At what point does a team develop technology advanced enough to remove the driver entirely and race the car remotely via computer. Then it's nothing more than a jacked-up version of that weird robot badminton exposition they hold every year.

As for being a sport, I've heard all sorts of arguments. Racing requires great athleticism. OK. Racing requires balls. OK. Have you ever seen how drenched in sweat they are after a race? OK. I'd like to see you do it! (My personal favorite argument.) I've seen a guy on Cops punch an officer in the face, hurdle four or five chain-link fences, sprint down the street, run through a house, vault over another fence, climb a tree, jump into the next yard, and then get subdued by five cops and a police dog. That guy had balls enough to punch a cop, athleticism enough to do all that running and jumping, was sweating like a pig when he got tossed in the cruiser, and he was definitely doing something that I could never do. But that doesn't necessarily make it a sport.

Every transportation device known to man is used in some form of contest involving speed.

Auto racing is a contest of speed, that combines the human abilities of endurance, strength, stamina, strategy, and teamwork with the mechanical durability, power, design, construction and maintenance of an automobile.

Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday

The automobile is unique in its appeal due to its worldwide use as a primary form of transportation, and symbol of status. The commercial appeal of automobile racing has grown in prominence since the mid-sixties to include more than the car manufacturers themselves. As a result, the automotive marketing motto now applies to a large number of commercial ventures throughout the world. Automobiles, drivers and teams in every form of the sport have evolved from automobile manufacturer representatives, to national flag carriers, to sales vehicles for everything from breakfast cereal to pharmaceuticals, cigarettes to cartoon characters.

Historically, automobile racing has represented and pushed the cutting edge of automotive engineering. From the rear view mirror to aerodynamics, fuel economy, tire technology, and exotic materials from fiberglass to titanium; all tested in the caldron of automotive competition before appearing in the showroom.

Teamwork

Auto racing is a team sport, demanding the best of each of its members. Not only the driver, but also the owner, manager, strategist, engineer, designer, spotter, pit boss, transport driver, right front wheel man... they each carry responsibility for the success of the team. Without this aspect, the driver and vehicle cannot participate beyond the club level of the sport; and even at the grass roots level, this aspect of organization is necessary in order to be competitive.

Restriction and Innovation are not always compatible

The sport has not been without its failures and tragedies, and these will continue to occur as the sanctioning bodies continue to create rules to balance competition, and participants continue to search for advantages over their competition. Death and injury continue to be a price paid by the driver when these two concepts collide with each other, and driver error, or mechanical failure.

Large strides have been made since the early seventies to assure track safety for drivers, crews and spectators, and collision survivability for the driver. And each loss once again raises the sport's awareness of its responsibility to the safety of everyone participating.

To do something well, is to live. Everything else is just waiting

The drivers themselves have evolved from pot-bellied good old boys, moonshiners and rich kids, to arguably the most physically fit athletes of any sport. Their success also relies heavily on their personality, and the crews to which they entrust their careers, and lives.

At almost every level of auto racing, the driver is no longer able to design, build, test and compete. Nor is he able to just show up and drive. His time is consumed maintaining his image and connections with sanctioning bodies, fans and sponsors. The driver's training and experience in the management of the fiscal needs of his team require more of his time than he will ever spend at the controls of his racecar.

Ô¿Ô

Auto Racing is competitive racing using automobiles. There are as many kinds of racing as there are kinds of automobiles, with divisions for every age and type of wheeled vehicle. Every kind of car from the tiniest utility truck (Like the Daihatsu Midget) to full-size big rig tractors, both with and without trailers. Probably the world's most famous types of racing are drag racing, so-called stock car racing including NASCAR, GT/Grand Touring, F1, and rally racing.

There are forms of auto racing for all levels of involvement, both in terms of time and money expended. For example, the SCCA operates several divisions of racing including autocross in which one competes against the times of other racers, and one car is on a track at a time, as well as touring car racing, orienteering and off-road rallycross. In the lower divisions, the rules allow nearly no car customization, and very little safety gear is required.

At the other end of the cost spectrum we have the open-wheel Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix racing series which follows a tradition spanning a century. The FIA Formula 1 series itself goes back fifty years. Cars themselves often cost many millions of dollars, and are created, maintained, and piloted by a crew of hundreds. Expensive racing events like Formula 1 are generally run exclusively by factory teams. F1 cars must be powered by a three liter naturally aspirated powerplant, and meet various restrictions on minimum weight and maximum dimensions. The engines themselves often cost in excess of $300,000, and competition is carried out on tracks worldwide. The first race known as a "Grand Prix" was held at Le Mans in 1906, and it has come to be associated with powerful cars.

While most racing series attempt to group competitive cars together, through handicaps if necessary, none put more effort into it than stock car racing. The primary example of this is the IROC or International Race of Champions, an American race in which all teams drive cars engineered and tuned to be as close to identical as possible, putting all of the emphasis on the driver. Other racing series tend to use the addition of ballast weights and intake restrictor plates to control performance.

Not all racing is done on a roadlike surface. Many tracks in Rally racing are made of tarmac, but the majority of them are some combination of dirt, sand, mud, and gravel. One of the most famous rally races is the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, an exhibition race featuring the most highly designed and oddly constructed race cars you will ever likely see, including six wheel drive vehicles and off-roading semis. Without doubt, however, the best-known rally event is the World Rally Championship, or WRC. The world rally championship features four cylinder turbocharged cars with approximately 300 horsepower, running on and off road in countries throughout the world. Teams get three days to scout the course, which must be done in stock vehicles from the same manufacturer as the car itself. Teams get 20 minutes between stages to work on the cars, and only 45 minutes to work on them at the end of the day.

Drag racing is a direct competition of speed in a straight line. Vehicles used for drag racing can be of any type, but the kind we're most familiar with are dragsters, cars built specifically and only for drag racing. Top fuel dragsters run in the neighborhood of 6,000 horsepower out of a mere 500 cubic inches or so. The engines consume themselves rapidly in the course of racing, and must be rebuilt or replaced between events. Slower vehicles are generally placed in groups to keep them essentially competitive, though the point is generally to see who has the faster car. Still, all wheel drive vehicles have a distinct advantage over other cars, for example, and cars using nitrous oxide are generally in their own class.

There is a type of drag racing called bracket racing in which cars compete against their own time. Several trial runs are made to determine a baseline best time, and then drivers compete to see who can get closest to their best. This is probably the most common type of speed trial outside of professional competition.

Many people have been known to take part in illegal street racing, recently made excessively popular and in fact glamourized by the movie The Fast and the Furious. Whether in classic American muscle cars or highly tuned Japanese sports cars, street racing has always been a favorite past time of tuners and hot rodders. Of course, racing on open streets is quite dangerous, since you never know who or what you will find on the roads, and it is naturally illegal. If you get caught keeping time while driving excessively fast on the street, it is often considered "exhibition of speed" which carries serious penalties. Modern street racing is arguably more dangerous than what the hot rodders were up to in the fifties, since they were mostly looking for relatively deserted and quite straight strips of road upon which to drag race, whereas imports emphasize handling and that means twisty roads, though that is almost a whole different kind of racing - "canyon racing". Import street racers are just as likely to engage in an impromptu competition through the downtown area of your local metropolitan center or have a 100+ MPH highway battle in traffic as they are to pull a simple drag race in a quiet industrial area.

Auto racing is, to some, the ultimate competitive sport. It is faster, stronger, louder, and more dangerous than any other competition outside of war that is open to the average person. Drivers wear heavy protective gear, but for many it has not been enough. This risk does not dissuade those who hear the call of a sweet exhaust note wound way up high, because no rush is as strong as crossing the finish line first.

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