Q: My definition of great racing comes from the perspective of that fan back in 1999, and I will throw out two races to draw my picture. First, the 1999 Daytona 500 was my first flag-to-flag race on TV. Jeff Gordon was my favorite driver, and I watched him beat Dale Earnhardt in a thriller of a finish. At 12, I did not remember the first 400 miles except for the large wreck, but I sure as heck remember the last 25 miles of the race. I can watch that race on YouTube now and still fall in love with it.
Second, the 1999 Napa AutoCare 500, the all race at Martinsville Speedway. This was the first race I ever attended. The in-person experience only flamed the ingredients that attracted me in the first place. In Jeff Gordon’s first race of his career without Ray Evernham as crew chief, Gordon held off a fresh-tired Dale Earnhardt while on old tires himself, and beat The Intimidator by a car length. I was ecstatic. Those two races are a picture of what I think is a good race. The top ingredient is driver personality. When I was sitting at Martinsville, I could watch before the race in the garage or during the race and say “Oh my God! That’s Jeff Gordon!” Or “That’s Darrel Waltrip!… ”Rusty Wallace!”… “Dale Earnhardt!”
You could just feel the electricity in the seats and on the track. It was like the current was running through you and to the person next to you in the seats. Fans lived vicariously through these superhuman daredevils that they identified with more than any other driver. A lot of factors may be at play, but it does not seem that that is the case today at all, and so today, I simply hope for competitive passing in a race. But if I have a harder time appreciating drivers as gladiators risking their lives for glory (in a much safer sport today), it is hard for me to appreciate a great pass or a dominating win. I still appreciate it, but it is harder to do.
A casual fan might have a hard time seeing a balls to the wall racing move for that reason. These electric personalities, for whatever reason, seem diminished these days, and that I think is the unifying factor in the making of a great race that supersedes all other factors.
Jeremy Lambert, Raleigh, NC
Q: I am 41 years old, and I have watched every season of F1 and Indy (and that other series, thanks Tony) for as far back as I can remember. I started watching IMSA and the WEC about five years ago, and Formula E when it began. This week, I made the decision to stop watching F1 after 20+ years. Here’s why. The actual on-track racing is terrible. After lap 1, you’re lucky if you see three actual passes. The commentators are painfully bad. There are no compelling personalities anymore.(Alonso). The regulations and penalties are the story, not the racers or cars. If you aren’t a fan of Mercedes and/or Lewis Hamilton there just isn’t a reason to watch.
In contrast, Indy has a pass almost every lap (a few races not withstanding) and the endurance racing has so much going on it borders on needing an Adderall for focus. While Formula E isn’t quite there yet (wider courses would fix everything wrong with E), I’m watching if for no better reason than Bob Varsha is an absolute legend and makes every race he calls better.
Q: I’m 62-year-old former hydroplane driver and have attended several hundred races. The first was Indy 1964, where I sat, for better or worse, at the exit of Turn 4, right where McDonald/Sachs cashed in their chips. The five best races I have ever seen were 2014 Indy (Hunter-Reay vs. Castroneves), 1982 Indy (Johncock vs, Mears), 1976 Unlimited Hydroplanes at Detroit (Muncey vs. D’Eath), 1973 Can-Am at Mid-Ohio (Donohue vs. Follmer), and 2017 Rolex 24 (Ricky Taylor vs. Filipe Albuquerque).
Though I’ve been to about 75 NASCAR races, they don’t crack the top 20. Neither does Formula 1. So, what makes the best races in history? Two (or more) drivers absolutely wringing the necks out of the cars or boats, mano a mano (or woman) for the win. The number of passes for the lead. No crashes! I hate crashes! Crashes take out competitive cars, and they hurt people. (NASCAR is absurd for its crash-encouraging rules – especially at plate races). Familiarity with the drivers and cars; meeting the drivers in person. No-one beats IMSA and NHRA and the fan walks for that. Nothing else comes close. Not IndyCar, and certainly not NASCAR, which hides the drivers from the fans. Shame on them. The ultimate in equipment and technology. But even that (F1) is worthless in a parade.
Mark Lamontia, Landenberg, Pa.
Q: I liken my relationship with IndyCar to the one I have with my best friend, who happens to be my wife. On most days, and like many races, she’s engaging, fun, interesting, and an absolute pleasure to have in my life; much less frequently, she’s aloof, boring, a bit disappointing, and difficult to be around. As hard as she and I work to achieve harmony and perfection in our marriage, we understand that each is an impossibility. We keep working at it, though, and understand that whether it’s been a bad day, an average day, or a great day, at the end of the day (as Helio says — perhaps a little too much), we love one another and are truly thankful for our relationship. It’s much like IndyCar, and racing, in general. Neither of us can envision our lives without it.
Daniel Pratt, Georgetown, Texas