Monday, February 22, 2016

Auto Racing

I am not a car guy. My car is a fine tool for getting around, but otherwise not particularly important. Yet it's still fascinating to watch professionals pushing vehicles to the limit.
I don't really follow auto racing as a sport. I don't have favorite drivers or teams. I just happen to catch races (mostly NASCAR) on TV occasionally. Which car wins doesn't have a big impact from my perspective, although I do usually pick someone to pull for in a particular race, just to make it a bit more interesting. So if not for the competition, why pay attention?

Let's be honest - the danger is part of the draw. There's almost always a significant accident in these races, often more than one. We all have a bit of danger voyeur in us. Cars driving in close quarters at high speeds gives that voyeur a chance to come out. And while people do get hurt, serious injuries are fairly rare considering the danger involved.

It's not just about the danger, though - if it was, it would be easy to just watch some crash highlights rather than an actual race. The science and engineering nerd in me is fascinated by the whole event. While watching a race, you hear a lot of talk about things that don't seem all that important at first glance. How clean the air is. Temperature of the track. Minor air pressure differences in the tires. Bits of debris on the track. It doesn't take long to realize that those seemingly small things make a big difference at 150-200 miles per hour.

The logistics and strategy aspect of getting through several hundred miles at very high speeds is interesting to me, too. How to time pit stops to have enough fuel at the finish. Which tires to change, and when. What adjustments to make to how the car handles turns, and at what point in the race. Whether to push to the front of the pack early, or hang back and make a move late. I don't pretend to know much about actually making all those decisions, but it's fun to watch (and honestly, to second-guess).

Then there's the team aspect of the sport. The driver gets all the name recognition, but races are won and lost on pit stops, too. The speed and precision of the fueling, tire changes, and other adjustments is pretty incredible. The drivers are constantly getting updates from spotters through the race, since they can't see everything in the field from track level. It feels like a cliche when you hear a driver thank their whole team at the end of  race, but that doesn't make it any less true.

I don't go too far out of my way to watch racing, but when the opportunity arises, I'll catch a race broadcast. Such as the Daytona 500 last night, which had an incredibly close finish. If you pay attention to everything that's going on, the sport is a lot more interesting than just a few hundred left turns.

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