Luke West

Australian Muscle Car - - Editor’s Induction -

What­ever hap­pened to a good old­fash­ion day at the races, I ask you? I’m talk­ing a Sun­day when you parked your butt track­side to en­joy a quick- re pro­gram of 15-18 sprints from both the headline act and as many as six sup­port cat­e­gories. You would set up shop where you could see a goodly pro­por­tion of the track and set­tle in for the day.

Our AMSCAR his­tory fea­tures this is­sue (the Group A years) and last (Group C) re­ally rammed home to me just how much mo­tor rac­ing spec­tat­ing has changed over the last two decades. And not nec­es­sar­ily for the bet­ter for the peo­ple who leave their lounge­rooms (and key­boards) and ac­tu­ally head to the track.

From the six­ties through to the early noughties, crowds had the ex­cite­ment of see­ing mul­ti­ple starts from the main at­trac­tion and more than a dozen starts from the sup­port acts. Short, sharp and ac­tion-packed. As the che­quered ag ew on one cat­e­gory and cars led back into the pad­dock, the next group of com­peti­tors was al­ready ex­it­ing pit­lane on their warm-up lap. Un­less there was a crash to clean up, the on-track ac­tion didn’t stop.

Races were sim­ple to fol­low. Cars rarely made pit­stops, un­less they struck trou­ble. The only strategy in­volved was go­ing as fast as pos­si­ble, while try­ing to pass the car ahead and de­fend­ing from the rear.

So what hap­pened? Why now do mo­tor rac­ing pro­mot­ers, who are oth­er­wise ea­ger to at­tract a big turnout to events, treat pay­ing pun­ters as af­ter thoughts? How did rac­ing reach the point where 30-40 minute gaps be­tween sup­port races be­came an ac­cepted prac­tice? Why are pay­ing pun­ters now only see­ing three maybe four races in as many hours? And one long main race.

Also, what has led us to the point where a dis­tant view of just one cor­ner or a 200 me­tre stretch from your van­tage point is par for the course?

Much of the shift can be traced back to the in uence of tele­vi­sion, street cir­cuits and the growth of the nanny state in so­ci­ety gen­er­ally.

Back in the pre-V8 Su­per­cars days, ATCC rounds gen­er­ally com­prised three 20 minute sprints. As Tony Cochrane and Co grew the sport’s pop­u­lar­ity and com­mer­cial base in the early years of the new mil­len­nium, AVESCO/V8 Su­per­cars Aus­tralia suc­cess­fully drove up the value of the cat­e­gory’s TV rights. In re­turn for pay­ing more for the rights to broad­cast the sport, TV com­pa­nies de­manded longer races and tele­casts into which they could place more ad­ver­tise­ments. Those longer races could be rather dreary af­fairs, so com­pul­sory pit­stops were in­tro­duced to mix things up. First, one stop was in­tro­duced, then some­times an­other. But this just made the rac­ing more con­fus­ing, par­tic­u­lar for those track­side.

Then the TV pro­duc­ers de­manded longer breaks be­tween each race on the day’s pro­gram so their techos could do what techos do. A re­ally big break be­fore the day’s main race was in­tro­duced for pre-race on-grid in­ter­views. This pe­riod was great for cor­po­rate guests who got to walk on the grid, but not so great so for the track­side spectators twid­dling their thumbs.

All this left spectators with more races that were con­fus­ing to fol­low, less events to watch over the course of the day, and longer breaks be­tween them.

As street cir­cuits – where spectators of­ten only caught a glimpse of the ac­tion – be­came more com­mon, those running the sport must have come to be­lieve that pun­ters were quite happy see­ing the cars ash by them ev­ery 90 sec­onds or so.

Cir­cuit safety im­prove­ments were also to the detri­ment of the track­side experience. Big­ger runoff ar­eas saw spectators moved fur­ther away from the ac­tion, of­ten peer­ing through catch-fenc­ing.

Thus, over time, spectators’ needs fell down the pri­or­ity list when new cir­cuits were de­signed or old ones ‘im­proved’. Longer tracks might ap­peal to drivers, but shorter lay­outs are in many ways bet­ter for pun­ters, as the cars pass one’s van­tage point more of­ten. Less can be more.

Fi­nally, be­cause the peo­ple running mo­tor rac­ing in this coun­try rarely if ever ex­pe­ri­enced spec­tat­ing at smaller cir­cuits with great view­ing – like Ama­roo Park, Oran Park or Wan­neroo be­fore the new pit com­plex was built – few have any clue why big crowds turned out to rel­a­tively mi­nor events. While other sports are moving to im­prov­ing fa­cil­i­ties for crowds, mo­tor­sport has made vis­it­ing a cir­cuit less en­tic­ing.

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