Sunday, June 07, 2015

Why Do We Need Drivers?

Many years ago Dale Earnhardt was asked, “How do you plan to win today’s race?”  He looked at the interviewer much as he might look at a bug which had just crawled out from under a rock and replied, “I plan to drive real fast.”  If you don’t know how much that typifies the Iron Man, I feel sorry for you.

The reporter, as I recall, mumbled something like, "Oh, okay, thanks,"  and wandered off to interview elsewhere.

Today a driver’s answer would probably be more along the lines of, “Well, we’ll put a quarter pound of air in the right rear tire on lap 187, around lap 300 we’ll use a half turn of wedge, and  Because today it’s not about how fast the driver can drive, it’s about what the mechanic can make the car do. A "quarter pound of air,"  forsooth.

Whenever they interview the second place finisher he never blames himself for not winning. He always says something along the lines of, “Well, the car got tight the last few laps and we didn’t have anything for him.” What’s this “we”  shit? I only saw one guy inside that race car. Back to Dale Earnhardt, the Iron Man; I never heard him blame his car for not winning a race. “I pedaled as hard as I could, but I couldn’t run him down.”

If second place is always the car’s fault, why do we need drivers? Let’s just put those Google self-driving mechanisms in the cars and let the mechanics and computers have at it. Sorry, they aren’t called mechanics any more, they’re called “crew chiefs.”  Mechanics don’t make that much money.

Why do we have drivers championships, for that matter? Jimmie Johnson should not get the Sprint Cup trophy; Chad Knaus should get it because every time Jimmie does not win the race it’s because Chad didn’t make the car go fast enough. Or turn well enough. Or something. Stands to reason, then, that when Jimmie does win it’s because Chad did make the car go really fast.

Drivers complain that rules changes “make the cars too hard to drive.”  Seriously. Race cars are supposed to be easy to drive? Reminds me of another old time driver,
A. J. Foyt, who once famously said, “Hell, if we’re going to race taxi cabs, then lets get a bunch of taxi cab drivers out here to drive the damned things.”

Dale Earnhardt didn’t think race cars needed to be easy to drive. I watched him go sideways at Talledega one time, coming out of turn four at 200 mph, and I do mean sideways. He recovered and kept going, just lost a couple of positions, and his radio remained silent until car owner Richard Childress asked him if he was okay. “I’m okay,”  he replied, “Car’s a little loose.”  And that was all he had to say about the issue.

They don’t make race car drivers like they used to.


  1. Love the pithy comments about Dale Earnhardt et al.. But the taxi driver races might be entertaining.

  2. Mad Mikie4:15 PM

    All of the real racers have pretty much retired. What we have are corporate spokesmen masquerading as race car drivers. In once case, it's a celebrity spokesmodel masquerading as a race car driver.

    Nothing that happens wrong is never their fault. Somebody wiggled, took air off their spoiler, the car was tight/loose, the tires weren't at the right pressure, too much camber, etc etc etc. As my dad once said, "There's always time to make excuses but never time to make things right".

    Back when they ran real stock cars and then the cars that looked like real cars with tube frames, it was the drivers who really controlled what went on with the cars. The crew chief would figure out gas mileage, tire wear, and other mathematical stuff. Nowadays, the cars are all alike so any real engineering and guess-timates by the crew chief has pretty much gone out the window. It's all computerized and digitized to the point that even an old coot like me could driver them.