INDIANAPOLIS — These are the best of times.
Nostalgia is good, fun and healthy. It’s nice to be sentimental and think back to earlier chapters of our life. But don’t lose sight of the fact that a lot of good things are happening in racing today.
Young men and women still dream of driving a race car. Whether it’s karts, stock cars or open-wheel cars, you’ll find young people in pit areas all over America. They are bringing new energy and personality to the sport and will carry it forward for years to come.
More track operators are investing in their facility than ever before. Modern restrooms, LED lighting, safer walls and track openings, improved seating, better concessions … it’s happening at more and more places.
With streaming technology and digital communications, it’s never been easier to be informed about racing. You can find results, schedules and commentary with just a few keystrokes. If you have an appetite for racing information, it’s certainly not hard to satisfy that appetite.
In years past, if you were making a four-hour drive to a track amid threatening weather, you pulled off the highway every 15 minutes to find a pay phone. You’d get $5 in change and call the track for a weather update before continuing on. Fortunately, that is no longer necessary.
The sport has dramatically improved in terms of safety — in every way. Is it completely safe? No, and it never will be. But we have made tremendous progress in reducing the chances of being hurt in a race car.
Passenger cars are safer, too. As you travel to and from distant race tracks, you are far less likely to be killed or injured on the highway than just 30 years ago. Any of us who buried too many young friends a generation ago would agree that this is a very good thing.
Racing is more competitive than ever. Everybody has good stuff and the racing is tight. Lapping the field in a 30-lap race was common years ago, but it’s definitely not happening now.
Racing parts are more durable and more accessible than ever. Gears, lubricants, electronics … stuff is well engineered and built to last. The idea of spending all day dragging through a hot and muddy junkyard (watch for snakes!) might sound romantic, but it wasn’t. Really … it wasn’t.
Is racing too expensive today?
My instincts say yes, but here’s a thought: If you look through old racing papers, you’ll discover that columnists of 30 and 40 years ago were noting that, “Racing is getting too expensive.”
“Too expensive” is a subjective threshold and in 2019 plenty of people are still able to get their race car to the track. That’s a good thing.
If you get past the sentiment and look realistically at the past and the present, it’s not a simple process to say which is better. There were many great things about racing years ago, but there were serious downsides, too. Same with today: Yes, there are problems, but that doesn’t mean everything is bad. Far from it.
Here’s the best part: One consistent element — then and now — is that the moment you walk into a pit area, you’re among friends. That’s the best reason of all to keep coming back.