Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 6, Page

American Summer


n the eve of the premier American motorsports event I found myself listening to the radio. Specifically, I was listening to a recorded radio broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 from yesteryear from WIBC AM from where else, Indianapolis. In a somewhat ironic meeting of old technology working with the new, I was listening to this radio broadcast on my laptop computer via the miracle of the Internet.

Amid the recorded sounds of the best speeds and drivers the collected minds of American motorsports genius could muster at the time was, of course, the tradeoff for being able to enjoy entertainment free of charge – a word or two from our sponsor. My brain, conditioned to prepare for the usual barrage of home refinancing, lawn care, and fountain of youth herbal elixirs, was thrown off course by a series of ads for of all things, automotive and racing related products. The trumpeting voice of the announcer hawked products that as he spoke were being used right out on the track. Firestone, the tire of choice for Indy 500 champions! Valvoline is used in four out of five Indy race cars, shouldn't you be using it? STP will help your car go faster. Really, just look out on the track. Those STP cars are moving! And now, back to the racing action. Not one face wrinkle cream ad in the whole bunch.

The Indy 500 is one of those grand American events that people get nostalgic about, and lament the fact that perhaps it has not fared so well moving into the future. Car counts are down, and books could be written about the chain of events that led to this waning point. None of this stopped me from being excited about the Indy 500. Why? Nostalgia,of course. The Indy 500 was a big deal for me for as long as I can remember, and will continue to be a big deal every last day of spring, first day of summer for the rest of my life. The event is part of me, and has been for as long as I can remember. STP stickers in the shape of Indy 500 cars and toy cars of all kinds were as much a part of my childhood as was the TV broadcast of the race every year. While the toys and stickers may or may not have been put on the shelf a long time ago, I still very much enjoy watching the Indy 500 on TV. When people are driving crazy on the streets I say, "It's like the Indy 500 around here!" just as my Dad did in the same situation. Thus, the Indy 500 is woven into my being as an American. The race this year was as exciting a race as any in recent memory, and weaved nicely into the chronicle.

I was perplexed by the fact that I can get nostalgic about the Indy 500 of the past and still enjoy the Indy 500 of the present; yet feel confused by the current state of vintage drag racing and downright flummoxed by NHRA drag racing. The trick is that the current Indy 500 carries with it the nostalgia and history of the past without trying to stay in it. The event and people involved are still exciting on their own. The heritage and legend just adds to the appeal.

Seeing a proud Mario Andretti speak post race of the achievements of his son and grandson was a great American moment indeed. The Indy 500 still speaks to its core audience even though the marketing wonks may mistakenly think we're more interested in eight-blade turbocharged vibrating razors than a motor oil that will keep our engines running smoothly. The identifying voice of the Indy 500 is still loud and clear. This is American racing, it says.

The voices of vintage and modern drag racing are not as distinct. The NHRA cannot seem to connect and carry with it its past and is losing its grip on the present, while the vintage drag racing scene should never attempt to connect with the future, and is rapidly losing its grip on the past.

The result is that a drag racing fan that goes to a vintage race sees a bunch of somewhat vintage looking racecars and fails to connect to the past. That same fan then goes to an NHRA drag race and disconnects on the connection to the present moving into the future, rapidly confused by 85-percent nitro and a barrage of corn syrup and diet pill advertising.

Let's work on keeping vintage drag racing firmly rooted in the past and cease trying to put the brakes on moving the NHRA ever faster into the future. We need to keep those fans now, and thirty years from now.


Retro Rant [5-8-06]
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