Where to find the most authentic racing in America | Column

Maybe it’s just my age; been around for so long that somehow people think that makes me some sort of sage on motorsports. Hardly.

Truth is, I know comparatively little. Like Socrates, I’ve learned that what little knowledge I have acquired only defines what I don’t know. Motorsports has been around for so long that each of the several important eras between wars is so diverse and complicated that it’s impossible to learn everything. 

What I do know is that I’ve missed a lot of good racing because I was so focused on whatever I thought was “important” at the moment. I seldom took the time to stop, look up and see whatever else was going on around me. 

Every aspect and type of motorsport has so much to offer. If you don’t take the time to attend events with which you’re unfamiliar, you may miss some of the best experiences that could change much in the way you live your racing adventures and even your life. Yes, it’s difficult to break away from something you enjoy or do well because it’s “comfortable” and the familiarity you’ve gained over time allows a certain advantage that only experience provides, but a wider perspective is always valuable.

I spent most of my formative racing years around sports cars because that’s what the guys I knew and respected most were doing. Going racing with friends is probably one of the best things you can do because you can get physically involved and contribute to their success at whatever level they compete. 

[Peter Brock Reflects on the Early Years of Sports Car Racing]

It’s not always important to win if you can come away from a weekend with something valuable that will improve chances for the next encounter. As time passes and you learn more, success is just a matter of applying acquired knowledge. 

A different point of view is always the most important takeaway from any new experience. Try to do something different whenever the opportunity arises. There’s so much to be learned and experienced wherever you compete, and it won’t always be something on track.

The first time I went racing in Baja was back in the day when only a few brave souls had ever ventured below the border into that vast, beautiful and intimidating outback. It was almost like going to a different planet. 

[BRE’s Baja Datsun 240Z Kisses the Asphalt Goodbye]

Every minute of every mile on those rutted dirt trails provided some incredible new vista–forests of cacti so dense you could only wonder how other life could exist, or coastlines so blue and seductive that resisting the desire to stop and spend a day in the surf was almost impossible. There were no road maps, so the only way to get from one point to another was to go there and see where the roads, if you could call ’em that, led. So it was the experience of trying something new, not the race, that remained valuable. 

Over the years, automotive competition has become so commercialized that its analogous “exposure” in the media has become more important than actual racing. Today’s television coverage is dictated more by what and how “racing” appears on screen, which to a certain extent is governed by artificial, ever-changing “regulations” intended to make every car “equal” by removing or adding certain performance aspects of each entrant. The demand for visually balanced electronic entertainment has removed so much of the human richness from our sport that its history and our relationship to those who once made it about courage, determination, style and skill have been essentially lost. 

Which brings us back to the opportunity to again witness some real racing. Our truly all-American sport of midget racing on dirt ovals remains perhaps the most visceral form of motorsport that’s still extant. Midgets have to be seen and absorbed close up, ringside, to be really appreciated. Each year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in early January, some of the best competition in the world occurs indoors at the Chili Bowl

Never heard of it? Trust me, don’t let that deter you from seeking a few days to watch some of the fiercest racing you’ll ever see. Imagine 400 of the fastest midgets and drivers from every part of the country converging in Tulsa for a weeklong shootout just to qualify for the 50 laps in the final A-Feature on Saturday night. Pandemonium! Tickets are available by contacting the Chili Bowl organizers directly.

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