Is it just me, or does the offseason go by faster every year? Racing is back underway (and really, not a moment too soon), with IMSA already in action two weeks ago and NASCAR and NHRA both back at it this weekend.
Confession time: I didn’t spend a lot of time this offseason thinking about racing. It’s never far from my mind, but something else got my attention: music.
I spent some time listening to some of the music of my youth with my less youthful ears. OK, look, I grew up in the 1980s, and discovered music and boys pretty much at the same time, thanks to MTV. That may or may not have led to some musical choices of which I’m not super proud.
What happened was I found a DVD I got somewhere (gift? Bargain bin at the mall? No idea.) that I had never got around to watching, and with nothing on TV (no racing, remember?) it was as good a time as any to bust this thing out.
Anyway, this was part of a series VH1 did a few years ago entitled Classic Albums in which bands talk about an album and how it came together. The album itself was one I’d about worn out in junior high and then forgotten about, more or less. Maybe it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure now. Sirius XM ’80s on 8 gets some airplay in the car, so old habits die hard, though my taste is certainly diverse.
But what this documentary did (I refuse to use rockumentary for the same reason it’s an infield road course and not a roval) was break down some of the songs on the album to its barest pieces, stripping naked the guitar track, or the bass, synthesizer or vocal. And suddenly what I thought I knew was changed. On its own, each piece and part showed a separate talent, and even the most ’80s of ’80s songs was something more than a cheesy video or a piece of pop trash.
It was like seeing something for the first time, though I’d seen it a thousand times before.
And now it’s racing season and I’ve just confessed to a bunch of race fans that I have a fondness for ’80s pop music. Don’t judge, OK?
Because what I got out of this has everything to do with racing.
The best race ever, the worst race ever (and those will be different among different fans, which, by the way, is completely fine), they’re both a singular event and the sum of a thousand individual parts.
As a singular event, it’s easy to look at a race in black and white: good or bad, exciting or cathartic, the right guy won or the wrong one did.
We all love a race with a great finish. Two (or three or more) drivers going door to door for the checkered flag is compelling stuff. It makes fans stand and cheer; this is what they came for, this is what they watched for hours to see!
Conversely, nobody really wants to see someone win by five or eight or 10 seconds. It’s a bit of a letdown, maybe, coming down to that after all those miles. Unless, of course, it’s their guy who dominated those closing laps, and then it was a great performance, pity those others.
That’s racing in its simplest terms, the either/or.
And it’s so easy to take that for what it is, just like that song you listened to over and over because it was so great.
There’s more to it than that, though. That race with the great finish… dissected, was there anything else compelling? The boring one… what about that fantastic battle earlier between the eventual winner and another driver whose luck ran out with an engine failure, was that win really such a foregone conclusion? When the favorite (or least favorite) driver won… did anyone also notice that underdog driving for an underfunded team who scored a top 10 against considerable odds?
Racing is, and has always been, about more than who crosses the finish line first on Sunday. For that one winner, there are 39 others with stories that didn’t get a happy ending that day — but they still had a story to tell. That’s the important part of the overall race. A heated battle complete with an angry shove and retaliation, a team racing with a heavy heart, a rookie learning a lesson from a master, and then the day that rookie takes it right back to the one from whom he learned it. That’s what makes it different. That’s what makes it timeless.
Too often, I have found myself only listening to the whole song, when I should be listening to each part that makes it what it is, whether that’s a classic or a questionable teenage fad. There are great songs with very simple parts that come together just right, and there are songs with an exciting guitar solo that don’t have any other substance. There are also songs that are just fun and songs we like because we like the singer.
Racing is the same. There are good races with less-than-perfect parts, and ones that don’t end in exciting fashion that had great moments. It might be just average, until you hear the thrumming of that distinctive bass line, and it brings you back to a day and time when you just loved that song without question.
Racing is a little like that, and it’s also pretty sweet on the ears.