Racing is all about cheating.
I’m not talking about violating race circuit rules by shaving some weight out of regulated structures or adding banned technology. It’s higher stakes than that.
Racing is about cheating death – doing everything possible to break the laws of physics or at least push them to the breaking point.
For most of human history, mankind was limited first by how fast our feet could carry us, and later by how fast a horse could run. Even then, we watched people run and ride, hoping to see someone push the limits of what we once thought was possible.
Racing wasn’t born from motorsports. It’s an urge buried deep in the human psyche. After the first human being stood upright and took a step forward, the next person probably said, “I can do that faster than you.”
You don’t consider yourself competitive in that way? Have you ever noticed yourself driving faster on the freeway because the cars around you are speeding up? It’s the same primal force.
Adding engines and wheels to our desire to be at the front of a fast-moving pack raised the stakes. At the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race, the first official auto race in the United States, the winning car averaged 7mph… on wooden wagon wheels. Within a decade, racers were nearing 100mph.
Mechanizing our lust for speed shifted performance away from the lone runner to a team of technological experts – mechanics who could keep engines running, designers who could find ways to get more power out of every drop of fuel, and the machinists who could craft parts to tight tolerances in ridiculously short timeframes.
Motorsports critics claim that the appeal is morbid; people watching cars flying around tracks in hopes of seeing horrific accidents. I’d argue that it’s the reverse. Fans want to see human beings exceed our limitations.
Danger adds to the excitement – a human being shouldn’t be able to move more than 200mph on land. It’s not how we were built. Cheating death is part of the appeal of watching such a spectacle, but the bigger thrill is seeing humanity conquering the impossible.
In the following pages, Today’s Motor Vehicles celebrates the technology that racing has brought to the world and the people who have made those advances possible. And many of those people were cheaters.
Williams Racing pioneered continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in Formula 1 racing. The company’s reward? Rules changes banning such systems. The history of racing is littered with such stories – race team engineers looking to tweak what was possible for a critical few seconds. Many of those tweaks led to breakthroughs in passenger car capability and performance. Virtually every component on modern cars – wheel hubs to fuel-tank caps, steering wheels to engines – benefited from the needs of drivers pushing their vehicles to the limits of what’s possible.
So, cheers to the cheaters. This industry needs people who look at the extremes of capability and performance and say, “Not fast enough!”