Small Balls Part 3
Janos Wimpffen’s marvellously crafted opinion piece
(here) and Paul Truswell’s equally
enjoyable response (here), a quotation
in another article last Friday, October 21, (Roger Edmondson
- “We are doing road racing in a little different way. As
Scott Pruett mentioned a little while ago, the Daytona Prototypes
provide entertainment that has not been seen on road courses in
a long, long time. That's only three years in the making now”)
got me thinking about how we define ‘entertainment’
and who is responsible for that definition – writes Mark
While I shall
not be continuing the small/big/ovoid balls analogy to any great
extent (I am still struggling with the Two Minute Regulations after
twenty years of watching gridiron, while baseball is going to take
me a long time to get into; and I stopped watching cricket, soccer
and rugby years ago), I shall make one observation about the NFL.
Here we have a professional sport that has certainly
been developed around the cathode ray tube, and every effort has
been made to ensure close games and prevent dominance by one team
– the Draft, salary capping, etc. And yet, despite a game
refereed more closely than any other, the Patriots can turn up and
win three Superbowls in four years; and rarely is a Superbowl a
match of equals. In other words, assemble the right team (on and
off the field) and you’re going to succeed. So is the NFL
an argument for tight regulation and equivalence, or against?
Moving the focus back to the racetrack, I reflected
on my own experience of covering races from the media box. Having
spent years watching from behind the catch-fencing, breathing in
the smells and feasting on the sight of cars at the limit, I now
found myself following races with my back to the track.
For the past three years, I have been reporting
on the GT3 (formerly Cup) class of the British GT Championship for
dsc, and in that time have enjoyed witnessing some fantastic racing.
I say ‘witnessing’ rather than ‘watching’
for a reason. Whilst having been a (silent) guest of David Addison
in the commentary box on a number of occasions – the best
view of a track available, for rather obvious reasons - more often
than not I have used his eyes to watch the track while mine follow
the race on the timing screen. This combination of his wonderfully
entertaining (and scarily informed) commentary and a screen of ever-changing
times has, if anything, enhanced my enjoyment of a race. Seeing
a car move is just a bonus.
Okay, seeing the cars is actually a big bonus, but
it got me thinking about what the sport currently offers the spectator.
At Le Mans, you have a restricted view, but with excellent commentary
and big screens. At other circuits (Donington, Brands Hatch) you
have a better view of the circuit, but just commentary to keep you
informed. I realised that I was getting a much better deal. Why?
Because I could follow a race that was almost invisible to most
Very often, at the chequered flag, the first question
asked of and by my colleague covering GT2 is ‘so was yours
a good race?’ This illustrates that there were two distinct
races going on and that both could be enjoyed in their own rights.
Does the spectator get this choice?
I generally write 1500-2000 words on each race and
that is because there is a story worth telling. The combination
of different cars, driver changes and abilities often leads to great
racing and, yes, close finishes. But because GT3 is the slower class,
it rarely features at the head of the overall race and it is this
area that quite naturally gets the focus from commentary and TV.
The majority of BGT races last one hour, so perhaps
it is unreasonable to expect any more focus from the traditional
media; and in longer endurance races (Le Mans, LMES, ALMS) the ‘lesser’
classes do get more coverage. But I believe that there is an opportunity
here to enhance the sport.
As Paul Truswell said, this is a minority sport;
and while I don’t believe that there is room yet for folk
music within it, there is certainly room for multi-media enhancement.
Imagine that you are (and indeed you may be) an
avid TVR fan. How much more would you enjoy your racing if you were
able to follow your car’s progress in its class at any point
in the race, instead of waiting for a positions run-down or a brief
mention? To know that it’s closing on the Ferrari ahead at
two seconds a lap for position? If we can watch live timing in the
media room or on the web, then it can’t take much to allow
that same timing to be available on mobile phones, PDAs or even
TVs in the grandstands.
The ALMS does it already, with its iCard system.
We live in a multi-media world and people’s
expectations are growing all the time (just ask any journalist as
he frustratedly tries to connect to the internet in the media centre)
and it is up to motorsport to meet those expectations.
Of course, thanks
to Embassy Radio, British GT events have had David Addison broadcasting
straight into fans’ ears at the track – and straight
into the computer of any fan around the world who wants to follow
the action audibly (as we have become so used to with the ALMS Radio
Web). The Embassy facility added immensely to the LMES race at Silverstone
in August – but it was only available thanks to Embassy and
the British GTs sharing the meeting. Other LMES events have commentary
on the PA only, and with full grids, who can hear more than snatches
of what has been said?
There is no one-answer to the entertainment question.
So instead of obsessing on that one answer, the sport needs to consider
what it can do to cater for both the thrill-junky and the anorak,
so that both can watch the same race and come away happy, rather
than endlessly sub-dividing to cater for an ever-smaller niche.
Ours is a great sport, whichever branch you follow, and it’s
about time it started winning-back some of the spotlight from the
bat ’n ball brigade.