Racing, like baseball, has a nostalgia about it.
Racing, especially American racing, is a time capsule of society.
Unlike in Europe where the scenery in some cases hasn't changed in a millennium, American society, American landscape, has changed dramatically.
And if you think back on the different eras in American history, racing mirrors it all. All our economic moods, all our technological and industrial triumphs, all of our historically significant achievements, be they political, economic or social are right there for us to see in picture books and recorded on the old oval racetracks of America.
If you take the beginning of American racing, the era of the first cars, when the US was clearly behind in the technological quest for individual travel, you see automotive beasts which clearly lagged behind European design, driven with tillers and displacing enough space to float a battleship, yet which produced relatively small amounts of power. It was a time of lazy days and inefficient designs, a time of two-story brick homes and farm houses.
In the second decade of the century, after the US had entered and helped win World War I, we had embraced the new era of industrialization, and race cars of the time showed it. The Golden Age of racing it was called, where Duesenbergs and Millers were made as precise as a Swiss watch, and where factories were showplaces of pride.
When the depression came, the US was plunged into an era of garbage, where anything and everything that could roll was driven on the speedways of America. It was an embarrassing time where people did what they could to survive and their race cars simply abided.
When the war came again, America had had enough. The Germans and the Italians had long made superior cars, yet the American racing contingent, like the American public itself, had enough of internationalism. The US isolated itself. At speedways around the country, cars designed and made by Americans sped around the oval tracks of America, and road racing, a typically European variation, was almost unheard of over here. Roadsters proliferated and the affair with the car developed in earnest.
In the jet age of the sixties we had our second technological revolution. While the Beatles were flying around the country, Colin Chapman was flying back and forth to Indy, bringing the first serious effort to the Speedway. The world was a smaller place and technology was not kept within borders any longer. Within a few years the face of American racing had changed for good.
In the seventies, after American Jim Hall had experimented with airplane technology and wings mounted on race cars, the technology exploded again, and in the early seventies, aerodynamics became the most significant innovation ever. Speeds at Indianapolis jumped twenty miles per hour in one season. On the straightaway speed dropped yet in the corners it was way up. It was the age of transistor radios, where smaller was better, but where nothing was truly efficient.
Now in the nineties, racing has taken the existing technology and downsized -- just like the corporations of the country. The idea is to run leaner and meaner, and to that extent we have done that. Sophisticated machinery? Sure. But so was it in the twenties and thirties as well as the sixties, seventies and eighties.
What's the theme of the new millennium? Who knows. For sure it will be out there racing. And for sure it will be as tied to American institutions as, well, baseball is.