Friday, August 24, 2007

Flag-waving

As I prepare for my trip to the Bathurst 1000, I've stopped by the Ten-Tenths Australia/NZ racing forum. As a regular on the 10/10ths sportscar board I've found it to be a very knowledgeable. welcoming, passionate group of racing fans. The Oz/NZ board is happily very similar, and they provided me with some great information about Bathurst. Along the way, a little bit of the Ford / Holden rivalry showed itself, something I was not surprised to see. My past visits to that board indicated that the Aussies get VERY passionate about which manufacturer they support. I've heard numerous stories of it turning into blind, ugly violence at the tracks, as well as an inordinate number of flame wars at 10/10ths.

It struck me that this kind of passion, so widespread in other forms of sport, is somewhat lacking in motorsport. Football (soccer to my American friends) is a shining example of how sport can incite such strong feeling amongst the fans of its participants. Football fans don't go to a game just for the sake of watching a game - they go to watch the fortunes of their team unfold. Such is the case with most of the stick and ball sports, especially at a high level where teams have the marketing and PR muscle to leverage the loyalty of their fans with merchandise and carefully-prepared tidbits of information leaked to the media to keep people interested.

Where can this be found in motorsport? Does anyone go to a race specifically to see their favourite driver or team beat the competition? Hardly ever, I would say. The flood of punters at Silverstone for the British GP this year to cheer on Lewis Hamilton might be a notable exception. But even the hordes of #8-flag-waving Dale Jr. fans at a NASCAR event would still probably be there even if Jr. wasn't. If Arsenal football club suddenly closed its doors, would Arsenal fans still go to football matches every weekend? I think not. This is the crux of the issue: is there anyone in motorsport that is a bigger draw than the sport itself? In Australia it is quite possible that the Ford / Holden rivalry is just that. We actually have substantive evidence for this: back in the 90s, when the Australian touring car championship switched over from homegrown muscle cars to European Group A regulations, attendance plummeted. When it went back to the V8 format, and the requisite two manufacturers, the series started a remarkable period of growth that continues unabated to this day.

Why is this phenomenon not found anywhere else in motorsport? Why aren't Kawasaki owners baying for the blood of Suzuki? Why aren't McLaren fans looking to find the nearest group of Ferrari tifosi to have a good old-fashioned fistfight with? Why isn't there a line of policemen set up between groups of Mitsubishi and Subaru fans at rallies?

I can only guess that the fundamental difference between stick and ball sports and motorsport is the added dimension of technology. In racing, the technology, be it cars, bikes, trucks or karts, represents a source of interest to spectators that will always be equal to or more compelling than those responsible for running it. Interestingly enough, it's the racing series where the technology is least-developed or most rigidly evened-out where you find the partisan crowds: NASCAR, V8 Supercars, A1GP, Japanese SuperGT and the IRL all seem to generate more loyalty from fans for drivers, teams or manufacturers than more open forms of racing such as sportscar racing, rallying or MotoGP.

Whatever the reason, it will be an eye-opening experience to sit amongst the rabid Ford and Holden fans at Bathurst. Yes, I will sneak a trip to the Holden merchandise booth, but the fruits of that excursion will stay in my backpack until I'm safely back in the USA...

5 comments:

DBT said...

Have a great trip!

Holden all the way - I have one on my driveway (got Vauxhall badges on it - but it's a Holden!)

As for Arsenal (as a season ticket holder) I'd still go to football matches, elsewhere. Some small local club or other, Boreham Wood or something. But I wouldn't enjoy it or love it as much.

As a Brit watching motorsport I always look for the British drivers first and, to a lesser extend, teams. But at the end of the day it's more about the 'sport' as a whole.

Rallying can be quite partizan - as a Scooby man we used to enjoy a nice friendly rivalry with Mitsubishi. And I'll always cheer for Soldberg.

Anyway, as I said above - enjoy Barthurst. Looking forward to your full report! :-)

Clive said...

The reason for this phenomenon of apparent lack of partisanship amongst F1 fans is rather more obscure than you think. The thing is: after F1 fans have absorbed all the latest technical information, examined all the political scandals, learned the names of entire teams all the way from the manager to the mechanics, found out what the heck Splitz is or makes since they're the new sponsors of the Bliggy Dooda team, decided that the U-Bend at the Wofferlooper circuit is more demanding than the Joe Soapenheimer chicane at Pongoburg, found out where the latest country to get a GP is on the map, they're just too exhausted to fight anyone!

Brenda said...

I can not speak for others, but as an avid fan of Formula 1 (not a follower of other motorsports or other sports), I am very passionate about my driver (Kimi) and my team (Ferrari). Unfortunately, drivers come and go, but if my team ever left, I would go with it. If the driver I was passionate about went to another formula, but my team stayed, I would continue to follow my team, but would also follow my driver elsewhere. Formula 1 fan fights tend to be verbal (believe me there are plenty of them) and not physical. Our drivers and teams see our passion and hear our roars for them (well, as much as they can over the roar of the engines). So don't count out our passion just because we don't normally end up in fisticuffs for another teams/drivers fans. The verbal fights are just as heated as the physical fights, it's just our scars burn deeper and last longer.

Rob said...

Have a great trip to Bathurst.

Partizanship can be found in MotoGP. Look at the hoards of Rossi fans in yellow at every track the series visits. More recently, the number of Lukas Pasek fans wearing red "52" shirts at the Czech GP was startling, even more so as he is "just" a 125cc rider.

Kawasaki recently switched the particular shade and style of green on their bikes (from 70's metallic flake to plain, more traditional lime green) and this made the Kwak fans happy. You only have to see the sportsbike riders on the UK roads of a weekend to see where their suppot lies. Often they will be kitted out in the colours of their BSB or MotoGP team - and those leathers cost hundreds of pounds.

And surely you can't discount the Tifosi?

patrick said...

I think the partisanship comes from the fact that there are really only two teams - Ford and Holden.

Football, after all, is a one-on-one competition. In F1, 22 guys compete simulataneously. And their careers last maybe 10 years, tops. So its not like you can choose your team at the age of 8 and stick by them for the rest of your life.

Personally, its one of the thing that's always put me off the whole 22 men and a pig's bladder thing.

Anyway, enjoy your trip to Bathurst. Partisanship ain't my thing, but that looks like one hell of a circuit.