Unless you’ve been living under a rock for much of the last week you know that the Olympics are taking place in London, England right now. It’s the one time every four years that people care about swimming, rowing, gymnastics, volleyball and other events. Regardless of whether you are actually a fan of those sports, you watch. You watch to support your country. Even if it’s an event like table tennis (affectionately known as Ping Pong), you’ll probably stop and watch it if Team USA is participating.
As a race fan, I got to thinking about how awesome it would be to have auto racing as an Olympic event.
Think about it. Guys like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti representing America against drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg representing Germany, Alex Tagliani, Jacques Villenueve, James Hinchcliffe representing Canada, Lewis Hamilton, Jensen Button representing England, Mark Webber, Marcos Ambrose and a bunch of Australian V8 Super Car Series drivers representing Australia, Fernando Alonso representing Spain, and so many more representing their respective countries all racing against each other in one event. It could be the first time that race fans could get to see who is the best of the best.
Formula One fans claim that F1 drivers are the best in the world, but before every NASCAR race you hear that “these are the 43 best drivers in the world on one race track,” but how do we know for sure? We don’t because they don’t race against each other. No NASCAR driver is going to leave NASCAR to head to F1 while still in their prime, and no F1 driver would head to NASCAR while still in their prime unless they’re basically forced to like Scott Speed or Nelson Piquet Jr.
But we would also get to see which country produces the better drivers as well. Does America put out the best drivers, or does Germany? Are English drivers better than Brazilians, or the Finns? This would be a way of finding out.
Formula One boss Bernie Eccelstone already asked the head executives of the IOC about adding F1 as an Olympic event, but the IOC said no because the Olympics is about one athlete being better than others. They said that in F1, while acknowledging that it is very athletic, the car dictates the outcome more. While there is a certain degree of truth to that in all disciplines of racing, I’ve found a way around that to have auto racing work as an Olympic event.
Have it be essentially what the IROC Series was. Equally prepared, identical cars. If the cars are equal in every way, then it is up to the drivers completely to prove who is the best.
Here’s my format: The IOC provides the cars so that no team has an advantage in any way. Run the races only on road courses since there are more road courses than oval tracks around the world. Each country can bring up to five drivers to the Olympics. So if there are 10 countries competing in the auto racing event, there would be a total of 50 drivers. But the main event would only have 20 cars. Run four, 15 lap heat races and only the top five drivers advance to the main event. The main event would be 30 laps with no pit stops, so once again only the drivers get to decide who wins. Not a pit crew.
Scheduling would be difficult since all racing series are in season at the time of the Summer Olympics, but that could be easy to overcome. Formula 1 is currently on a scheduled three-week break. Every four years they could just schedule that break around the Olympics. NASCAR only has two off weeks the whole season, but one of them was just two weeks ago. Perhaps they could move that break back two weeks.
It might be a bit of an inconvenience, but it would only be once every four years that this kind of scheduling would have to be done. The National Hockey League takes three weeks off for the Winter Olympics and they don’t seem to mind. The don’t mind because the Olympics brings a lot of attention to the sport. Non-hockey fans were huddled around the TV in 2010 to watch Team USA take on Team Canada for the gold medal. And after the Olympics were over, the ratings for that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs were up very high. The very same could happen for racing.
Many people feel that auto racing isn’t a true sport. Isn’t athletic. But to be honest with you, there are quite a few events in the summer Olympics that very few people would consider to be sports. So why would this be any different? Maybe if racing was to become an Olympic event, those who wouldn’t normally watch a race would watch to support their country and then realize that not only is racing fun to watch but is also very athletic and very physically demanding. Maybe then people would consider the drivers to be athletes. Maybe then people would think “Hey, I probably can’t take my Ford Focus out on a race track and do what they do like I always thought I could.”
Should racing be an Olympic sport? I see no reason why it shouldn’t be.