Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who are the REAL racers?

Anyone who reads car magazines knows that the back page is usually reserved for something off the wall, be it commentary in "Racer" or memories of cars that are long gone like in "Evo". British TV car show "Top Gear" has an excellent companion magazine, and as I was reading through an issue back in the summer I came to their back page, which is called "Campaign for Real Racing Drivers (CAMRRD)". This is a play on words on the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). The articles highlight racers who for one reason or another are endearing for being "real".

What makes a "real" racer?

Let me synthesize some of Top Gear's criteria with my own:

1. You party like a rock star and date many sexy women, because exceptional talent gives you that right, and most drivers in the 60s did it, knowing that they were good enough to overcome any ill-effects and their team didn't care because there's no such thing as bad press. Stand up Kimi Raikkonen, James Hunt, Barry Sheene and (lately) Lewis Hamilton.

2. You have a spectacular driving or riding style that may not be the fastest but makes it look like you're trying very hard. Your name is Colin McRae, Keke Rosberg, Norick Abe, Garry McCoy or Noriyuki Haga.

3. You showed incredible talent but died before that potential was fulfilled. Think of such losses as Stefan Bellof, Daijiro Kato and Greg Moore.

4. You can (and do) race many different things because at your heart you're a racer and it doesn't matter what you're sitting in or on, as long as you're racing. Probably the ultimate examples of this are Robby Gordon and Vic Elford, but there's also Travis Pastrana, Colin McRae, Valentino Rossi, and the man who won world championships in F1 and Grand Prix motorcyling, John Surtees.

5. You're not afraid to be yourself with the media and often use bad language on air. Who doesn't like watching interviews with Hans Stuck, Valentino Rossi, Tony Stewart, Greg Murphy or Eddie Irvine? And we certainly miss seeing Peter Brock, James Hunt and Joey Dunlop speaking on TV.

6. Your competitive streak is so strong that you often feud with other racers. Ayrton Senna was a prime example of this, but these days Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi stand out as having had the best feud.

7. You have been very successful in spectacularly dangerous but more esoteric events such as the Isle of Man TT, Pikes Peak or Dakar Rally. Joey Dunlop stands above all others in this category, but other notable (and alive) members of this group include John McGuinness, Stephane Peterhansel and Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima.

8. You've had a very bad accident, yet pushed yourself to amazing limits in order to return to the sport. Alex Zanardi lost both legs yet came back to race touring cars, Mick Doohan had doctors sew his legs together to accelerate recovery, and Colin McRae once famously threatened to amputate a finger to get back in his car faster.

9. You're a "people's champion", a racer that endears themselves to vast numbers of supporters, regardless of success (although usually there's significant success involved). At one time or another, the hordes have gathered in support of Peter Brock, Dale Earnhardt, Colin McRae, Nigel Mansell, Valentino Rossi and Joey Dunlop.

It's interesting how some racers such as Valentino Rossi, Colin McRae, Joey Dunlop and Peter Brock seem to fall into a number of categories. It also seems that being dead makes you appear to have been more of a "real" racer. Is this an example of the "rose-coloured spectacles" syndrome perhaps?

Regardless, motorsport needs racers who fit into any of these categories. For every one of these people, there's hundreds who simply follow orders, have no personality, drive consistently (and boringly), parrot PR-speak or simply show no imagination or verve in their racing careers.

Who do you think qualifies as a "real" racer?


DBT said...

Gilles Villeneuve.

A spectacular, people's champion who dies WAY before his talent was realised by being crowned World Champion as he surely would have been one day.

Fangio, for being an all time legend and, by all accounts a really nice guy.

His contemporary rival Stirling Moss for having a beautiful driving style (even now), being a nice guy (even now) and being made even more heroic by not actually winning the world championship.

For the sheer number of mentions in your list, Colin McRae!!

Did you mention Jim Clarke? Driving with STYLE!

Clive said...

Yes, Gilles was the perfect example of a man who would race anything - and he died in the year he would have been champion, DBT. Pironi and Tambay shared the points that would have been Gilles' for the rest of that year.

Graham Hill was a great partygoer as well, I hear.

The closest thing to those characters we have today is Kimi Raikkonen - the bad boy when away from the track. And that's why we all love him, of course.

Pee Wee said...

Excellent post.

The "List" could go on ad nauseam.....

I agree with dbt and Clive, Hill and Clark, Sir Jack Brabham, Gurney, currently Mat Mladin...