by Tony Sakkis
January 17, 1997
As the racing season warms up and the scent of spent fuel seems already in the air, racing fans must address to one undisputable fact: unless they want to watch racing on TV the rest of their lives, the only way to see a race is to travel to it.
Unlike football or baseball where a game is a game no matter where it's played, racing is a group of places where the games really differ. Sure, the same set of people in the same set of cars compete against one another, but racing is really more than just that. It's also the tracks.
The high banks of Daytona, or Talladega, the wide open straights of Michigan or Indianapolis, the wooded beauty of Road America or Lime Rock Park are as much a part of racing as Wrigley Field or Shea Stadium.
But as much as the baseball or football stadiums evoke memories of past heroes, they do not define careers like old racetracks do.
Think of Indy and you think of a few great drivers like Foyt, Rose, Mears and Murphy. Think of Daytona and the names Petty and Yarborough come to mind. At Riverside, there's Gurney and Waltrip, at Watkins Glen the names are Andretti and Reutemann.
In Europe, think of Monaco and there is the unbelievable drives of Senna, Prost, Hill and Stewart. Le Mans means and Stuck or Bell. Or Monza with Ferrari, Silverstone with Williams. And so forth.
The truth is, racing is different because it is not just people, but equipment, not just cars, but places and cultures all locked together once a season and eventually, inevitably, historically significant.
And you can't experience that from the comfort of your living room.
To get the feel of racing, to really be a part of it, you can't be a couch potato, you have to go to the races. And sometimes that's uncomfortable. Not the actual race, of course, but the planning, the uncertainty and so on. And every season you will have the same excuse: "not enough time."
Mostly that means, "not enough time to plan." Racing is still a Sunday sport, and qualifying (except Winston Cup) is done Saturday. So you do have time. Of course, every season you will also say the other thing you say annually: "Next year. For sure. Next year." And next year will never come.
So this season, right now in fact, become part of the history you always have only watched before. Be able to say, "I saw Earnhardt win his first Daytona 500", or "I was there when Andretti finally won Le Mans at age 57," or "I remember when Jacques Villeneuve sewed up his first F1 Championship at Monza in 1997. I was there".
In my book, A Racer's Guide to The Universe, which covers how to get to races, what to expect once you're there and assorted other tidbits, I explain a fundamental fact of race travel: It is far easier than most people think.
Journalists all over the world fly into races at a moments notice without any accommodations and make do, and actually do a first-class job.
You can do the same thing. Pick out a race. Maybe it's just in another state. Maybe Pike's Peak, or the IndyCar season finale in Monterey. Make a commitment to go and a commitment to finally participate. Call the track, get a visitor's information number, call the airlines and get a fare.
The 1997 season will be another great one in the world of motorsports. Are you going to be a part of it?