If you identify as a racing fan and have frequented the Internet at all in the last few years, you will have noticed an alarming trend.
Racing increasingly has been perceived as worse than in the past.
From Twitter to print journalism, words such as aero, passing, stars, personalities, funding, budget (and all at some point misspelled) read like a litany of diseases coursing through the body of the fire-breathing beast that is auto racing.
And here is the thing: The misspelled Twitter troll and the student loan-indebted journalist have a point, and I don’t think anyone knows what to do about it.
Let me explain.
About a week ago, Formula One announced on Twitter it was going to put its first full race on YouTube. But not a live streaming event of the current year. It was going back into the archives to breathe life into a relic of the world championship past.
Formula One then decided to host a poll allowing fans to pick which Malaysian Grand Prix they would want to watch most. The choices were the years of 2001, 2003, and 2012.
Immediately, I voted for 2001. It wasn’t even a thought. I instinctively clicked. And it wasn’t but a couple hours later that I got a text from a friend in racing. It had a screenshot of the poll. “Let me guess,” he wrote, “you voted 2001.”
Before asking myself the Millennial existential crisis question — Am I that predictable?– I responded with, “Of course.” The thing is, 2001 had the amazing V10’s, and it was the start of Michael Schumacher’s domination with Ferrari. But most importantly, it was the first F1 season I can remember watching all the way through.
It also was the year of the F1 game on PS2 that I had to buy a second CD (after wearing out my initial copy from overuse, err … and I never put it back in the case. I was a rebel like that).
But the point is the 2001 season of Formula One has a serious sentimental quality to me. And apparently, I wasn’t alone, as the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix won the Twitter poll with 42.5 percent of the vote. Now I must admit this particular race was manic, going from dry weather to a torrential downpour that had cars going off the course in every corner. It was pure chaos.
Put that aside, if given that vote again, I would have picked a 2001 race nine times out of 10. And I’m starting to realize why.
It has to do with science. Now before you click off this tab, throw your phone or flush the toilet you’re sitting on, bear with me.
Scientists in lab coats (or probably Warby Parker spectacles) discovered why it seems that you feel most connected to the music of your teens and early 20s. I won’t bore you with the scientific details, and frankly, I don’t care to type them. But simply as your brain is developing, you will latch onto music during that time. And eventually, your brain stops to develop, and your personality firms up.
Where you are left with a couple of go-to breakup songs, and that one that makes you think of your first love.
Which it’s nice to know I am not alone in having a band I absolutely loved in high school but can’t listen to one new album beyond the ones I liked.
But what does that have to do with why I love the 2001 Formula One season? Well, it’s become apparent to me as I venture around the motorsports world in either driving or a media capacity that racing must be like music.
There is one thing deeper about the whole music nostalgia brain stuff: Scientists also can tell what your musical taste is simply off your personality traits. So if you’re fun-loving, good-looking and popular, they believe you will have liked all the stuff on the top 40 radio stations.
And if you were more like me — rebellious and agitated — you probably listened to alternative rock and gangster rap.
Which within the sporting world, auto racing is the alternative rock. It isn’t the high school cheerleader and impeccably white-toothed quarterback in the popularity contest for peoples’ attention. No it’s the kid who attends but doesn’t really play sports, has a cute girlfriend and parties a little. Occasionally trying a cigarette or two.
The NFL and NBA dominate the Top 40 hits of the sporting world. Racing rarely makes those charts. And therefore, us race fans are a finicky bunch, just like the alternative rock bands you loved in high school that are producing great music but have faded into obscurity.
Racing is facing a similar dilemma. As I talk to fans and ex-fans. I realize a consistent theme. “I loved watching racing 10 years ago. I would go downstairs and lay on the living room floor with my Dad and watch the whole race.”
Or, “Racing was better back a couple of years ago, I would have a group of friends who would watch every race, and it was awesome. We don’t do that anymore. Everyone grew up.”
So I made it a point to watch the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix. And a funny thing occurred: I started to want to watch new F1 races more.
Aside from the fact that I impossibly got emotional watching a race from when I was 10, the cameras also are better now and in HD. The information is better now, and the racing is not much different.
Is racing really so “terrible” now?
Probably not, but just like music, it’s become clear that we have a golden age for acceptance. And just like the music identifying with a past love, racing nostalgically identifies with something at the time you thought was better.
So how do we move on? Well, past that time of open acceptance, it is about being more open-minded. At least that’s what the scientists say.
If nothing else, I’m excited to know I have the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix as a breakup song.