MATTER OF OPINION
Words and photos by Ian Tocher
I read an article on another Web site recently (http://www.moto1.net/magazine/),
in which the writer posed the age-old question about who might be the
"greatest driver in the world." He rightfully pointed out that to reasonably
determine a winner, drivers from all forms of motorsports -- and to
his credit, he included straightliners from the get go -- would have
to race head-to-head on all forms of tracks in identically prepared
cars. Sort of an International Race of Champions (IROC) that truly would
be an international race of champions.
To represent drag racers, the writer suggested John Force and Gary Scelzi as worthy competitors (though he quickly replaced Scelzi's nomination in favor of Angelle Seeling's TV appeal -- apparently unaware of her recently married name change to Savoie). He then went on to name several stock car and road racing stars as potential contenders for the crown, with even a couple of sprint car and rally drivers thrown in for good measure.
That's not what caught my eye, though.
Alongside the article was an online poll asking readers "Who Are the Most Skilled?" with the options being: Drag Racers, CART Drivers, F1 Drivers, NASCAR Drivers, Rally Car Drivers, or (I'm not making this up) Bus Drivers. A quick check of the results on Aug. 1 found NASCAR drivers way out front with more than 57 percent of the votes, followed by F1 and Rally drivers at about 13 percent each. The wags in the crowd gave bus drivers more than 10 percent of the ballots, with CART drivers about 3.5 percent and drag racers bringing up the rear with less than 3 percent support.
Now, admittedly, this was not a scientific poll and NASCAR fans are notorious for their tunnel-visioned support of anything based in Charlotte or Daytona (personally, I cast my lot with the Rally guys), but I was surprised by the drag racers' poor showing.
It makes me wonder what the average race fan thinks goes on in a modern Top Fuel or Funny Car as it blazes a path at more than 300 miles per hour. Or for that matter, what it is that Jeg Coughlin or Warren Johnson does in their 200 mph-plus Pro Stock rides. Barring land-speed record vehicles, these are some of the fastest race cars in the world and that alone should garner a certain amount of respect for their pilots.
The problem is, drag racing looks deceptively easy. Too many people think it's just a matter of stab the accelerator and hold on. They think it's like bowling -- they could do it quite competently with just a little practice.
Now, I've never driven anything even close to resembling a nitro-powered drag car, but I've been around a lot of them and the men (and women!) who drive them and I feel very confident in saying there's a special skill involved and these people are indeed race car drivers. But do I think John Force could drive Michael Schumacher's Ferrari at Hockenheim or Monaco and deliver competitive lap times? No way. But could Schuey go 320 at Gainesville or Houston? I'd almost equally doubt that.
They're both great world champions -- without question, two of the
greatest who've ever lived -- but really, there's no way to compare
them fairly. The disciplines are just too different. However, I'd be
willing to bet they share a common understanding of what it takes to
go fast. It's just too bad that so many race fans outside the sport
don't recognize the talent that drag racers exhibit every time they
attack the quarter mile.