Motorsport, or competitive events, usually races, involving vehicles, has its origins in the mid-1800s, as self powered vehicles became a reality. Soon after the invention of internal combustion engines, racing began in earnest.The Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race of June 1895, a race of732 miles, was completed in 48 hours and 47 minutes by Émile Levassor.
This race is generally considered to be a “rally” race, because it was held on public roads instead of a designated course. The first American race is generally considered to be the Thanksgiving Day Chicago Times-Herald race held on November 28, 189, a 54.36-mile course.
Frank Duryea won the race in 7 hours and 53 minutes. In 1908, the longest ever automobile race was held, from New York to Paris. Three of the six teams that entered actually reached Paris, and the American team led by George Schuster was declared the winner of the22,000 mile race after a grueling 169 days.
All of the early races would now be classified as rally races, or racing that takes place off-road or on public roads instead of closed courses. Rally driving is now split into two categories; stage rallies, which take place on off-road tracks not open to normal traffic. These races are generally straight tests of speed and maneuverability, and are mostly the professional branch of the sport. Road rallies, the original form of rally driving, take place on normal highways open to other traffic, though they may be through difficult terrain, and rely more on vehicle reliability and navigation over long distances than straight speed. Today, these rallies are mostly amateur events. Consequently, if you are a classic car owner and want to sell your car, a road rally event can be a great alternative. Not only are there thousands of serious car enthusiasts, they are extremely passionate about the sport – passionate people tend to buy on impulse and emotion!
The oldest closed circuit racing courses were converted horse tracks, such as the Knoxville Raceway (the oldest circuit in the United States) and the Milwaukee Mile. Brooklands, in Surrey, England, was the first purpose built racing track, opened in June 1907. It was also used as an aviator center during both World Wars, but sustained such damage during the second World War that it never reopened for racing.
During the 1930s motorsport exploded, but declined again during the second World War due to wartime demands for military vehicles and airplanes. Post-WW2, manufacturers could hardly keep up with the demand for family sedans, but during the 50s, motor sport and racing vehicles became a class of their own. Throughout the 50s the look and feel of racing cars evolved and by the mid 1960s, the look of the modern stock body racing car had more or less developed.
During this time, Formula 1, or F1 racing had begun to evolve. Although F1 racing has its origins in the 1920s and 30s in France, it too took a backseat to wartime production, and really came into its own in the late 1940s and early 1950s. F1 cars are the fastest cars in the world, owing to their light weight and high powered engines.
The look of F1 cars is distinctive from the rest of motorsport, in the low-slung and stripped down bodies made of the sturdiest, lightest weight materials in the world. The ‘formula’ in question refers to a set of rules that all participants and their cars must abide by, and gives fairly specific specifications for the single-seater cars that characterize Formula 1.
NASCAR, or National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is currently the most popular organization for motor sport in the world. Second only to the National Football League in the United States in TV viewership, NASCAR hosts 17 of the 20 most attended single-day sporting events in the country. NASCAR races are broadcast to over 150 countries each year, totaling up to millions of fans.
Why is motor sport so popular? This is difficult to say precisely, because it varies from person to person. Whether you love the brutal mud-slinging tearing up the woods sort of rally racing, or the relentless fast pace of a NASCAR race, or the elegant beauty of F1 cars flying around a track at nearly unfathomable speeds, there’s something primal and exciting about motor sport. It’s visceral; unlike most other sports, spectators can feel the race in their bones, rattling through them as the cars whiz around the track. It can be dangerous and exciting – there are few other sports in which the possibility of a catastrophic explosion is less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when’.
Motor sport isn’t difficult to follow; cars race, generally as fast as they can, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. Of course it’s far more complex than that, but for even the youngest child can understand “go fastest, win the race”. Other sports draw huge crowds of course, even fanatic crowds, but there is something special and almost intimate about the crowds you find at a NASCAR race. There might not be quite as many people as at one of the massive sports arenas that dot our country, but the atmosphere feels far more like family, like coming home.
Since cars were first invented, we’ve been trying to see who could get theirs to go the fastest. There’s something inherentlyfunabout watching people drive really really fast. From the very first races to bootleggers racing away from the police, all the way up to the most modern and advanced sports cars. Cars are a huge part of the American cultural landscape and always will be, from our cinema to our everyday lives. Motor sport will always be a part of our lives, and will only continue to evolve as our technology becomes more advanced. Who knows; maybe in a few years we’ll have flying car races! Only the future will tell.