Motorsport Thoughts

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Motor Racing, fatalism, and fans

Let's be honest, motor racing is a tough thing to love, as it is surely the cruelest of mainstream sports.

The simple reason for this is that people die doing it.

You don't get that with football, rugby, cricket, etc. Only stuff like skiing and powerboating - both comparatively obscure - have fatalities and in skiing (which I'm pretty familiar with) they're very few and far between. In motor racing they are mercifully quite rare nowadays, but accidents still happen and always will do. People can lose their lives very easily when you're talking about things going wrong with high-speed vehicles.

I've touched on death before, as Ayrton Senna's death was the thing that first provoked me to have a look at racing, and of course since then I've come to love it. There does exist a parodox in my mind with racing of hating people getting killed or injured (which is understandable), but also knowing that the risk factor is what makes motor racing good in part. Watching padded bumper cars race at 40mph on a padded track isn't as exciting as watching thirty lunatics on 200mph Superbikes hurtle round the world's best tracks, because it's not as much of a feat required to do it. But going fast isn't the point - rollercoasters are fast, but they're not exciting to watch as there's no element of control. You sit there and the ride does the rest. The skill involved to race demanding machines at very high speeds is what the appeal of racing is, for me.

Accidents and deaths in racing are hard, especially as you get more involved and the victim of the accident is someone you're familiar with or even have met. Learning that someone you know about has lost their life - or worse, seeing it for yourself live - is a horrible feeling. As a fan of many series, I've known of quite a few deaths during my time watching racing and it certainly doesn't get any easier. The toughest I've known of are Gonzalo Rodriguez and Greg Moore, Champ Car drivers who both perished in 1999; and Daijiro Kato, the MotoGP rider who lost his life after an accident in the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix. Equally as bad was the death of Steve Hislop (British Superbike Champion of the previous year) in a helicopter accident in 2003, who I had met briefly a few years earlier at an autograph session. When you've been there and seen people in the flesh, it really hits it home. Mercifully - as yet - I have not witnessed anyone's death live as I watch, and sincerely hope I never do.

Let's come at this from another angle now though.

Whenever someone dies racing, there's always a massive outpouring of grief, shock, and often outrage about how something like this could come to happen (I call it 'Princess Diana Syndrome'). I completely understand the mourning, shock and grief.

But the outrage about things being too dangerous, 'something must be done' etc, gets to me slightly. If we're talking forums, it often comes from people who never express any thoughts on anything else - until someone loses their life - then it's OK to get up and complain, is it? I'm sure the world's riders and teams are ecstatic that people sit in mute indifference to a race, even a really great one, and then come out slagging off the sport/circuit involved when someone has an accident... I hate to refer to specifics, but recently a young British Supersport rider, Ashley Martin, perished following an accident at Cadwell Park, the UK's most exciting track. I wasn't particularly familiar with Ashley, but feel deeply sorry for everyone connected with him about his passing. What I do object to is people coming out who've never passed comment on British Superbike racing or even bike racing at all coming along and saying that something needs to be done about Cadwell as a track, just because there's been an unfortunate fatality. As it says at every track in the world: 'Motor Racing is Dangerous'. Their knee-jerk reactions would be the kind of thing to get Health and Safety reps into action, ready to water things down. Cadwell is a brilliant track, the kind of track that shows off all the best bits of bike racing and one that should never be removed from the calendar.

Now here's the point I'm trying to make. I've been to racetracks many times now. But most of the time there's not much positive reaction to the racing half the time. Think about football matches. Every gets up when their team has a corner, sings songs throughout the match, cheers wildly, and if you're English then you beat the shit out of the town where you're playing if you're abroad, as some people would have you believe. At race meetings, there's less positive stuff. People seem to just sit quietly and appreciate the action much of the time, although you do get some Rossi-mania and Brit-cheering (Stalker and JT, mainly). Too much sitting down in your little tent eating your sandwiches instead of cheering on the 125s.

When the risks are so great, shouldn't we be getting a bit more worked up about the good stuff? Can we not cheer when a great battle goes past, whoever may be in it? How about you show your appreciation more for guys who are risking their lives throughout the race for us? Isn't the good stuff the reason you're watching? (surely you're not just waiting for crashes; if so you're in the wrong sport, go to a demolition derby) Premiership footballers don't risk their lives, and they earn in a month what you might earn in your whole lifetime. They don't deserve your praise as much as guys who are often riding for their livelihoods and always riding for their lives.

Get excited. Don't be embarrassed - it's what you're supposed to be doing.

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