Open Pipes: I Like to Watch Races

By J.G. Pasterjak
Dec 23, 2020 | UTCC, VIRginia International Raceway | Posted in News and Notes | From the June 2019 issue | Never miss an article

Most of what I write about–indeed, most of what I do–is hands-on. I’m the type of person who would rather be part of something than watch it happen. I want to have experiences, not just witness other folks having experiences. This is especially true when it comes to most motorsports competition, which I’d certainly rather take in from behind the wheel than from the cold side of the fence.

But I can still rationalize–dare I say enjoy–my time as an observer if it involves a few specific factors. Follow along, fellow doers, and maybe I can help you stay entertained on the sidelines.

Can I learn something?

Okay, this one is a little selfish, I’ll admit. But the next best thing to doing something is watching someone else do it well so you can improve the next time you do it, right?

For example, today I watched quite a bit of the TCA/TCR World Challenge race broadcast from VIRginia International Raceway. I don’t normally pay a ton of attention to televised racing, but I’ll be running the Corvette project car at VIR in a couple weeks for our Ultimate Track Car Challenge. Although I’ve spent a bit of time at that exceptional facility, I’m not intimately familiar with it, so watching highly skilled drivers work every inch of its pavement gave me a very useful sneak peek.

“But these drivers are battling for position, and you’re going to be doing a time trial. Aren’t those different approaches?” asks the learned reader.

Good observation, but timed-lap racers can still learn a lot from road racers. Those TCA and TCR drivers are constantly entering corners from less-than-ideal lines and overdriving on exits, which gave me lots of valuable intel. Now I know which particular turns I can execute at less than 100-percent accuracy without materially affecting lap times, and which ones I need to get right on the money or else just loaf it and save the car for another lap.

It’s also nice to leverage other people’s misfortune to see where offs occur–and how bad those offs are. If there’s a turn I can attack at 102 percent, knowing that the worst-case scenario is a long slide through some soft, manicured grass, I may take a risk there rather than the corner with a sheer 4-foot drop into a pit full of scorpions.

Can I cheer for a friend?

Yeah, it’s just flat more fun to watch a race when there’s a personal connection. Seeing the skill and talent of top-level drivers is great and all, but it’s only going to keep me engaged for so long. Being able to cheer for guys like Robb Holland or James Clay–people I’ve shared experiences with and who have told me about their mindset behind the wheel–is pretty cool.

Seeing someone like Tom O’Gorman come up through the autocross and time trial ranks into the top levels of production-based motorsport is pretty validating for our hobbyist world, too.

Is it an experience in its own right?

I mentioned earlier that I’d rather have an experience than watch someone else have an experience. Well, more than a few motorsports events are as much of a sensory overload for the fans as they are for the participants.

I’d probably put the 24 Hours of Nürburgring at the head of this list. I’ve been there several times as a journalist, once as a driver in a supporting event, and every single time as a fan. It’s utterly overwhelming to be present at such a site of motorsports iconography and witness literally hundreds of thousands of people lining a race track that snakes for miles through beautiful, primeval forest. Every photo I’ve ever taken there–whether on my high-end DSLR or a quick snap on my cell phone–has an epic, cinematic quality about it.

And despite the insane number of spectators, not one of them is a “casual” fan. Every single soul walking the paddock or lining the track could quote chapter and verse about the GT3 Aston Martin in the lead or the VW Golf club racer that’s been entered by four local dudes who scraped together just enough money.

The level of savviness and knowledge of American sports car racing fans is increasing geometrically–it just takes one trip to the elbow-to-elbow infield of the Rolex 24 At Daytona to confirm that–but we’re still catching up to the European fans. Which is fine. They had a head start. But we’re coming up hard on their six.

So that’s what keeps me invested on those weekends where I’m not strapping on a helmet, but rather strapping on a camera or settling into a couch. How about you? Do you have to be the one hitting the pedals every time, or are you content to occasionally watch someone else have fun?

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djsilver Reader
9/20/19 1:56 p.m.

Yes!  I've also worked races at the local track and been able to give drivers tips that lowered their lap times.

drock25too GRM+ Memberand Reader
12/22/20 8:26 p.m.

I'm kind of the opposite. I figured out long ago that I was not the next Mario Andretti or Richard Petty. I spend most of my time at the track wrenching on B.W.'s cars. Going on 28 years now. I still have a car that I run occasionally. About once a year I run his car. Saves me a lot of $$ and I have a lot of fun doing it. 

frenchyd PowerDork
12/23/20 8:39 a.m.

In reply to drock25too :

I'm a kinda all or nothing sort of guy. I go racing it's after I've spent 2500 hours building something from nothing but junk. Checking everything carefully upgrading where called for and eliminating everything not absolutely needed.  
I get mild pleasure walking through the pits looking for the creative solutions to problems.  Maybe an artistic touch here or there. A tasteful nod to history. 
I'll help anyone who asks but I've learned the hard way not to offer. racing is intense and too many people are tightly wound up at those moments.  

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