A gauntlet has been thrown. A challenge has been issued, and here I stand, ready to accept. Robb Holland, I will see you on the racetrack.
For those who haven’t been following, Robb Holland, a man who calls himself a racing driver, has challenged me, Michael Ballaban, a man who calls himself an automotive journalist, to a duel of sorts, after we insulted each other’s respective honor.
It all began at the World Touring Car Championship race at Salzburg last weekend. As the drivers began their second qualifying round, a most peculiar incident occurred. Usually what happens in qualifying is that all the drivers race around as fast as they can go, hoping to set the quickest lap time and thus attain the most premier starting position for the race itself.
That is not what happened in Salzburg.
In WTCC, the aerodynamics of the cars are set up so that “slipstreaming” or drafting off the back of the car in front of you is actually the fastest method to get around the track. As the cars in front have no one to draft off of, they actually tend to be slower through the qualifying lap. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but the person who comes in second is often faster than the person who finishes first.
In Salzburg, the drivers realized that this was all a bit of a conundrum. No one wanted to be in first, so whoever ended up in first slowed down in the hopes that someone would pass them. This resulted in a domino effect, where everybody slowed down to the point where the cars were barely moving faster than 20 MPH.
I said the drivers should have had their licenses revoked for such petty behavior.
I was wrong, Robb Holland said.
Robb Holland said that there were a number of illustrious drivers racing at Salzburg that day. There were drivers who had been in Formula One, drivers who had competed on ice, drivers who had won at Daytona and Le Mans. Surely they would have known better than I did, writing for some website obsessed with cults and cars.
Robb Holland said that Salzburg was akin to a drag racing track, with tight, slow corners and long, fast straights. It only made sense to worry about drafting first and foremost. Plus, your tires can give out. What’s the point of racing when you’ve got no tires?
Eh, the commenters are probably right. I could probably exercise a bit more, I do love a good couch, and sometimes the rage-fuel that spews out of WTCC makes me type so fast it comes out like a garbled mess.
But you, Robb Holland, you were the most right of all. I was wrong, about the drivers having their licenses revoked. That was silly of me to say. Taking away their licenses would be petty and tyrannical. So, allow me to revise my statement.
They should all be banned from all competition, of any sort, for all of time. No pie eating contests, no bar trivia nights, no dizzy-baseball, and certainly no WTCC.
That’s right. I’m doubling down.
This is about more than mere sportsmanship. A good sportsman comes in second. No, this is about honor. This is about doing what is right, decrying what is wrong, and standing up for all that is good in the world of sport.
This is about RACING.
Racing is all about being the best, because you are not afraid to take a chance – even if that means you might lose a tire.
Racing is about being in front, it’s about leading the pack, it’s about watching a soccer game, seeing a guy take a dive, and decrying when his team wins because of his ill-begotten penalty kick. Racing is about thumbing your nose in the face of all those pudgy pundits, on their luxuriant couches, and saying I did my best, and I was fastest. It’s not about “I gamed the rules, and thus by coming in second, I truly came in first, and thus my strategery enabled me to blah blah blah blah.”
Yes, you drivers may have spent your time in your carbon fiber cockpits and have won your fair share of championships, but what fan can respect any athlete who wins not by bravery, determination, and gumption, but by an auspicious reading of the rules?
And so I say to you, Robb Holland, that I accept your challenge. On the field of battle we shall meet, to finally settle the question at the heart of this matter.
What is racing?
Robb Holland, I’ll see you at Sonoma.
Image credit: Robb Holland/Me, this one time I went to a go kart track. Plus I've raced at Sonoma in Forza 4, so I'm feeling pretty confident.