Monday, December 18, 2006

Cars and bikes: Racing's dividing line

There are those who follow motorcycle racing. And there are those who follow auto racing. Yet it seems to me that the place on a Venn Diagram where the two regions intersect is populated by only a handful of petrolheads. I'm not talking about people who are mad for sportscar racing who watch the occasional MotoGP race. Or even the person who'll watch a day of motorcycle club racing and then catch a Formula 1 race when he or she gets home.

I'm talking about people who would just as easily travel to another continent to see a bike race as they would to see a car race. And vice versa.

Why is that? What is it about two sports that are so very similar but end up being so segregated? To answer the question I turned to two passionate groups of racing fans: the members of the Bay Area Riders Forum; and a diverse group of auto racing fanatics at Ten Tenths.

The bike racing crowd were quick to point out the forms of car racing they're interested in, and were equally quick to identify NASCAR as their least favourite form of 4-wheel sport. But it became clear that followers of motorcycle racing, used to the large amount of passing and variety of racing lines in their sport, are easily bored by car racing. Those who showed an interest in Formula One admitted that the source of their interest was purely the remarkable technology. Rallying was popular amongst bikers - perhaps because like bike racing, extreme levels of control are very evident (it's harder to identify how close to the edge a car is in circuit racing).

On the other side of the fence, the impression I got was that until you're actually a motorcyclist you can't appreciate what motorcycle racing is all about. The car racing fans often spoke of simply not being into bikes. This somewhat woolly apathy reminds me of my own position on bike racing before I was a rider. I found it difficult to tell one bike from another and I had no grasp of important concepts such as "superbike", "2-strokes" and "Grand Prix". These days, Dorna (MotoGP rights holders) and Flammini (World Superbike organizers) have both done a good job of branding and marketing, but it doesn't change the fact that to an untrained eye, all racebikes look alike.

Bike people may also point to similarity in cars: how different does an IRL car look to a Formula 1 car? Compare black and white photos of two different Le Mans prototypes and identification becomes difficult for all but the most eagle-eyed spectators.

As with any sport, to know it is to understand, and to understand is to enjoy. If you don't get stuck in and start learning, you'll never be into it. My hypothesis is that most people who follow racing are quite happy in their own corner of the racing diaspora. You can be entertained for hours by simply being a follower of open wheel racing. Or NASCAR. Or bikes. Or sportscars. It's safe to say that there's few people who feel the need to broaden their racing world because they simply don't need to.

So it seems that racing generalists like me are a rare breed. I think it's safe to say that most racing fans are specialists in their own area, and that's a good thing because any racing series needs a core group of fans who care only about that one form of racing. I think this is most obvious at club racing and grassroots events, so I hope to get out to some of those meetings next year just to get a reminder of what racing passion is all about.

No comments: