China's hosting of the Olympics has been described as one of the best and most expensive in history. Like millions of others, I watched bits on television, between episodes of Sponge Bob and The Real World (children own the remotes in my house).
I'm certain each Olympic participant had a backstory, a history soaked in sweat and sacrifice that began as soon he or she took their first steps. Some kids are destined to be athletes; their physical build and propensity to a particular activity can be quite telling, even at a young age. If junior can throw his juice box half a mile, chances are the kid has promise.
So Mom and Dad invest a few dollars and get the kid a ball, get him onto a sports team, spend countless hours shuttling him to practice and games. He makes it to high school, the skills are recognized, he's scouted by college recruiters. Provided he's got the drive, he's on his way to greatness.
But what about motorsport? How can you tell if junior has the skills to become the next F1 or CART champion? I don't think his pedal-car or Bigwheel prowess is going to say much.
Shifter carts are some of the more popular entry-level pieces of race equipment. Even on a base level, they cost a helluva lot more than a pair of ice-skates or a football. Thus, the pool of would-be participants is largely reduced to the more financially muscled.
A poor kid playing basketball in a vacant lot could potentially be scouted for a college team, while a poor kid in a second-rate shifter cart is at extreme odds for the same chance. I've got to think this schism limits the motor racing talent pool. What if there's a prodigy living in the projects? Think that kid will ever get his chance at greatness?
Motorsport has always been about money. Luck too, but mostly money. I don't know why that bothers me so much. Perhaps it's that genuine skill often takes second place to cold hard cash.
This whole thing came to light during a recent track day at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. A gentleman had rented the entire facility for his two sons. Somewhere between 12 and 15 years old, the boys had an entire pit crew at their disposal. They were driving what appeared to be full-house F3 cars with telemetry electronics, live video-the works. They were having fun, but confided that this exercise was more to make Dad happy than anything else.
"I'd rather be playing Team Fortress on my computer right now," said one.
As far as Dad was concerned, his boys were going pro, right up there with Schumacher and Andretti. And with the right amount of "encouragement," maybe they would. It's not exactly a rags-to-riches story, but realistic.
I like underdogs, people overcoming tremendous odds to achieve something, anything. I appreciate sacrifice; I have great respect for unflappable determination. I guess I admire people who suffer for their success. I want them to earn it with blood and tears.
I have an 11-year-old with great reflexes, balance and the sort of absolute fearlessness that borders on insanity. His grandpa's convinced he's destined for F1; he's all set to pull the trigger on the requisite gear.
He's not getting anything until his chores are finished and I see gold stars on the next report card. Something tells me it's too early. He hasn't suffered enough.Les Bidrawn