The Other 99 Percent | Performance Racing Industry
The Other 99 Percent
By Dan Schechner on August 3, 2017

A short time ago a column appeared in the “Gear & Gadgets” section of The Wall Street Journal that raised some eyebrows here at PRI. The piece, written by Dan Neil and titled “Le Mans: A Race for the Future of the Automobile,” paid homage to the famed endurance road race as a testbed of advanced technology and a wellspring of competitive drama.

Unfortunately, however, Mr. Neil chose to set the tone for his article by opening with the following: “In my opinion, 99% of motorsports competition is a pointless, brainless waste of time and gasoline.” Peppered amongst his praise for Le Mans were unflattering characterizations of nearly every other form of racing (NASCAR, drag racing, F1, etc.).

Needless to say we had strong opinions on the matter. And we made those opinions known. Here, in its entirety, is PRI’s response—our letter to the WSJ editor—to that column:

To Whom It May Concern,

I read with equal parts interest and chagrin Dan Neil's recent piece, "Le Mans: A Race for the Future of the Automobile." Indeed, the iconic endurance race of which he writes truly pushes the limits of advanced technology. Of that, there is little debate. Le Mans is a proving ground of motorsports innovation, and the ACO deserves full credit for its efforts in this regard.

That said, I found Mr. Neil's decision to disparage the sport's remaining 99% in order to state his case quite unfortunate. Does Mr. Neil truly believe that if it doesn't run through Arnage and Mulsanne in mid-June then it must represent "a pointless, brainless waste of time and gasoline"?

The saving grace can be found in Mr. Neil's first few words: "In my opinion”. Because if his was an opinion shared by most, well, then we suspect a whole lot of good in this world would likely go unrealized.

For one, what if Santa Maria (Calif.) High School alumnus Art Foster had shared Mr. Neil's opinion that "drag racing is for morons and children"? Perhaps Foster would've never established an after-school program in 2007 that affords students the opportunity to run a bona fide drag racing operation. Beyond building and prepping their car for competition, members of the Santa Maria High School Racing Team are charged with raising funds to support the program. They must also maintain a 3.5 grade point average, and conduct themselves responsibly. As senior crew chief Christopher Salce told a local TV station in May, "We're actually [learning] real life skills on how to be an adult, how to talk to other adults, how to prepare for a possible job; even if it's not in the automotive field—we build skills that you could bring to any other job interview."

Across the country, scores of high schools and colleges are using motorsports-centric programming to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. From off-road racing projects in California to nationwide Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge competitions (Google it), they're also teaching young people critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as teamwork, initiative, leadership and respect.

In fact, and notwithstanding Mr. Neil's opinion, advanced technology abounds throughout racing. Downsized engines that improve mileage and reduce gas consumption; enhanced efficiency through energy recovery systems; not to mention direct shift gearboxes, disc brakes, dual overhead cams, built-in safety frames that mimic NASCAR roll cages, even rearview mirrors—all hugely influential technology transfers from motorsports into everyday grocery-getters. And look at Formula 1, which in 2014 switched from 2.4-liter naturally aspirated V-8 engines to a fuel-saving 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6. While we’re at it, ask an engine builder about cylinder head designs for big block modifieds, or a shock manufacturer about suspension setups for dirt late models. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one great spectacle, to be sure, but it hardly holds a monopoly on innovation.

The bottom line is that we respect Mr. Neil's right to offer an opinion. Everyone has one. We just question whether his point could have been conveyed without seeking to belittle and minimize the worth of motorsports' other 99%, and by extension, those of us who understand that racing, in all its forms, deserves to be recognized and celebrated for its myriad benefits to amateurs and professionals, teenagers and octogenarians, drivers, crew members, families and fans.

Which is to say that if all Mr. Neil is able to extract from NASCAR, for example, is "a loud and noisy ruse to sell chicken wings," then we suspect he still has much to learn about motorsports, or is otherwise content to operate from an outdated and ill-informed point of observation.

Dan Schechner, Editor
Performance Racing Industry Magazine


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Dan Schechner is the Editor of Performance Racing Industry Magazine.
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