I used to be one of those idiots who got up at four on Sunday mornings to watch Formula One as the circus made its way around the usual world circuits. No matter how successful the Long Beach Grand Prix has become by simply enduring, anyone who was there when F1 was on the streets will tell you nothing has been as thrilling since the closure of the pike. So is this just the usual inaudible verbiage of old dudes sitting around in XXL James Hunt or Ferrari T-shirts reminiscing about the glory days? In a word, no.
No less an expert than Peter Windsor confirmed why F1 really isn't worth the effort to get up at 4 a.m. any more. In his gig as on-site live reporter for the Speed Channel, he digs up an occasional gem that illuminates the whole misguided adventure. He was chatting with a driver, as the cars were on the pre-grid for the humidity round known as Sepang, when he mentioned the driver's lowly starting position, maybe eighth place. Windsor made the observation that it was possible for this driver to move up the order, as overtaking is possible at this circuit. Hey, we're all grid fillers on this bus.
Overtaking, passing, burying someone's ass is the most blood pumping aspect. F1, in its quest to remain the perceived 'big show,' has lost its way. With the wise withdrawal of Michelin, the circus has become a spec tire series all in the name of, get this, cost containment. Bridgestone can't claim to be the best because it's the only company to hang around after Bib went home with the Cup. I will still continue to watch F1 because of the great noise and the technical advances, not whether current UK media darling Lewis Hamilton wins a race this season.
Those who care about the stature of motorsport in the US are at a distinct disadvantage when engaging in conversations with enthusiasts across the Atlantic, particularly in the UK, where they feel the sport was invented. You could argue they may be correct, but I have come across far too many Brits with a condescending attitude toward the former colonies, and it all comes down to one word: NASCAR. Guess what? They have us on that point. Where else in the world is there a major race series with rear-wheel-drive carbureted mounts? It's simply embarrassing for an industry rich in technical research to support a series of rent-a-car body shapes that make up numbers in fleet sales.
I watch the Daytona 500 only for the same reason a lot of people watch the Super Bowl. Yet I know the names of a lot of NASCAR chauffeurs because of the slick, inescapable mainstream advertisement blitz. Cheap motels, breakfast cereals, cell phones, look Martha, it's Dale in his Wranglers right there at the Wal-Mart! Contrast the image of "Aw shucks, we're just folks" with the no-interviews-please F1 jocks. It doesn't matter that the chances of the public actually getting close to a NASCAR star is about on par with that of F1, but the masterful job has been the transformation of the majority of the country. Motorsport is what the rest of the world does, in this country we "go racing."
Each week, I get a couple of hundred industry press releases, mostly motorsport (excuse me, I meant racing) related. One in particular stood out recently. Think about this: what if the Dodgers were playing the Giants, or the Steelers playing the 49ers, only it wasn't on a field but on a racetrack? A new series based in the UK (where else?) is doing just that. For the few who saw or attended an A1 GP-open-wheeled cars entered by countries with a native driver-a new series has been announced that should up the emotional ante. The Superleague Formula will launch in the summer of 2008, and the cars will bear the colors of the top football (soccer) clubs in Europe.
The media has all but ignored the wonderful premise of the A1 GP. However, Superleague will be hard to ignore, given the coverage football gets worldwide. Promoters are looking to attract families, females, and an overall younger audience to what they state will be equal entertainment at competitive prices. The FIA has given a nod, but if they start cutting into profit margins, look for fireworks to ensue.
It was interesting to note the football clubs which have expressed interest in joining. Naturally, there's not a listing from the States because soccer is something we do with our kids on Saturdays. As with NASCAR, we have our sports that reside within our borders, and the world be damned. But did I mention that the firms building and developing the Superleague cars are American-owned and the technology starts on this side of the pond?