Sunday, April 28, 2013

Art and Auto Racing

Yes, I am officially becoming an old guy. One way I can tell is my reaction to my favorite sport of auto racing. I’m much more critical of it now than when I was younger, and on many different fronts. I recently attended some dirt track stock car races (late models and modifieds) that inspired this rant. For this essay, I will focus on one aspect in particular—the way the cars look today.

You see, I’ve always liked auto racing because it is such a multi-sensorial experience. You watch it with your eyes, you hear them roar by with your ears (and sometimes feel the noise in your chest), and you can often smell burning rubber, fuel additives, or even just the popcorn from the concession stand (which can also be tasted). But the artist in me has always enjoyed the beauty of racing cars. A mechanic can build a basic race car, but the way it looks—the color scheme chosen, the font style of the number, etc.—all contribute towards giving the car personality. Since you don’t see the driver like you can a baseball or basketball player, the car becomes a representative of him (or her). It doesn’t have to be worthy of an art museum, but good ones convey a personality.

In the old days, race cars were hand lettered, often by local sign painters. In today’s world, cars are “wrapped” instead of painted, using giant decals created on a computer screen. The computer makes it easy for people to lose sight of a simple design and instead go “over the top” with a complicated array of colors that looks like someone dumped the crayon box into a blender.

The cars themselves don’t have the character that cars had in the old days. I liked it best when stock cars used auto bodies from real cars. You could readily tell a Chevelle from a Road Runner, or a Firebird from a Mustang, because that is what they started off as being. There was often a wide variety of body types. Unfortunately, today’s cars don’t use real car bodies, and they all look the same—slab-sided slanted boxes (rhomboid racers?)—resulting in less personality.

To make things worse, they typically hide these cars inside a huge white box for no one to see. Most teams have big rig haulers that allow them to bring an entire garage with them for support at the race track. In the good old days, race cars traveled on open haulers, to amaze and inspire people (especially kids) along the way.

While most of the preceding comments were based on dirt track stock car racing, that doesn’t mean that other forms of racing are immune from this problem. Sprint cars were better when they had rounded bodies and not much around the driver, making it easy to see the driver working the steering wheel. Now they’ve all became carbon copy downtube cars, with wedge shaped hoods and body panels encapsulating the driver. Plus, they also have the crayons-in-the-blender fancy wraps!

Heck, even NASCAR and NHRA Funny Cars were more realistic (and thus more interesting) when I was younger. While I appreciate the thought behind their effort, I think the attempt by NASCAR to create fake Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers in the Nationwide Series is absolutely ridiculous, because it is all the same body, with just minor deviations.

Fortunately, there was one fantastic race car at last weekend’s race. Near the concession stand, a historic car was on display for folks to see. It was Ray Hendrick’s “Flying 11” 1937 Chevy modified that ran on paved tracks in NASCAR’s modified series. I was very fortunate to see this car run in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, whenever we went to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. I was glad to see the car again. To me, this is a real race car! And yes, I am officially an old man yearning for the good old days! Now if you will please excuse me, I need to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Now this is what I call a race car with personality!

4 comments:

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