ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 17 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

The Rear View Mirror
April 1999 - April 2001
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Rear View Mirror - Second Anniversary

The Past Isn't What It Used To Be. -- C. Vann Woodward

The world of sports is increasingly sharing a common view of the past: The Past was Then and This is Now. That view is further shaped by a selective vision of The Past. We are constantly reminded that these are the great days of Sport. Never has Sport been so accessible on television or so abundant. In the United States, there are professional leagues for ice hockey, American football, basketball leagues for men and women, baseball, lacrosse, soccer now leagues for men and women, bowling, golf, and on and on and on. It is little different in Europe or in the Pacific Rim region. Only the sports change.

In soccer/ football, few can remember the days of players such as Silvio Piola, Ferenc Puskas, or Mario 'Lobo' Zagallo, to mention but a few wonderful players from years gone by. Indeed, most cannot remember the days when the professional clubs did not smother their uniforms with the logos of team sponsors. Almost everyone knows 'Pele,' yet few seem to have any idea what it is exactly that he did.

Only American Baseball seems to run at least a bit contrary to the tide. It almost worships the days gone by to a degree that even the most casual fans of the sport are familiar with names such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Peewee Reese, or Jackie Robinson. However, this tends to be the exception.

In most other sports, history is viewed as an inconvenience. Only the grand cups or trophies seem to have much in the way of history attached to them. At times, history is manipulated to satisfy the league or an important owner. One recent American example is what happened when the owner of the Cleveland Browns moved the team to Baltimore. The league okayed the move, but in contrast to the many other such moves declared that the 'history' and the team name the 'Browns' were named after a person in case you were curious would remain in Cleveland and the team would have to find a new name once it moved to Baltimore. In this case, what had been the 'Browns' simply became the 'Ravens.' The 'Ravens' had zero history as far as the National Football League was concerned. In contrast, when the new Cleveland franchise opened up for business, it picked up where the old 'Browns' left off including the same uniforms as before...

To most modern sports fans, the past is largely irrelevant. Indeed, the 'past' rarely extends much further back than a decade or so. Games are now more than merely contests of teams on the field. Successful teams generate a demand for the merchandise of team items to fans. In the heyday of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it was fascinating to see how ubiquitous the black hats with the red 'B' became. The fan no longer attends that simple contest, the games is wrapped in a miasma of music, cheers, food, and a steady bombardment of advertisements for team 'sponsors.' Often it seems that the games is merely an afterthought since so much effort appears directed at providing the fan with an 'experience.'

Besides, history is as Henry Ford is said to have muttered 'pure bunk.'

That view should be no surprise to those who follow motor sports. Like the other sports vying for the spotlight, auto racing concentrates on the here and now. On the international level, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) has turned its World Championship series for single-seater racing cars into a marvel of standardization and precision. It will a sense of awe that we watch these events unfold almost before our eyes. The transportation of all the equipment to venues scattered across the Seven Seas, the schedule of events that unfolds from the first moment to the very last. There is an order and a precision to this that would make a Deist leap with joy a true Clockwork Universe.

However, things were not always this way. Unlike American baseball where the game is nine innings with nine players aside, or soccer where there are two 45-minute halves and 11 players a side the motor sports world is much messier. And its past a bit murky.

The World Cup for soccer/ football has been contested since 1930. In that year, teams gathered in the unlikely host for the event, Uruguay. The soccer world generally dates this as the beginning of History As We Know It. Was there international soccer prior to this? Certainly, but the World Cup soon became the means to date the soccer calendar its Carbon 14, if you will. American baseball uses 1903 as its C14 because that is the year the first World Series was played. And so forth and so on around the world and through the various sports.

To most who tune into Atlas F1, the C14 is 1950. That is the year that the FIA held its first World Championship. The term in use today for the class of racing machines contesting the FIA World Championship is 'Formula 1' or as it usually known, 'F1'. Well, 'F1' was actually called 'Formula A' when it was introduced in 1947. Only about 1950 or so did the term 'F1' come into what we could call general usage. The FIA World Championship today includes all the events run to the regulations governing 'F1.' In 1950, that was not the case. Seven events one of them the Indianapolis 500 counted towards the World Championship. There were an additional 16 events for 'F1' racing machines that season.

At one time, many of us called what is now known as 'F1' by another name 'Grand Prix.' However, that term is now rarely found outside the title of a race. If you surf the internet, you can literally dozens upon dozens of sites providing the results of 'F1' races. Most are focused only on the results of recent years. Almost none of these sites cover those 'F1' events held outside those held as events in the World Championship. Yet, there was 'F1' prior to 1950 and the first Championship at Silverstone.

Other forms of motor sports are not exempt from this. In NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing), the calendar is a mite confusing. The current C14 appears to be 1972, the year that the Reynolds tobacco folks using their Winston brand became the title sponsor for the Grand National cars. The interesting thing is the first year the Grand National series contested for the 'Winston Cup' was 1971. The years from 1949 the first year that NASCAR ran its Grand National Division to 1971 seem to be in some sort of limbo in the mind of most NASCAR fans.

In American single-seater racing the situation is even more confusing. We now have the unfortunate split between the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the Indianapolis Racing League (IRL). This on top an already confusing history. Although both profess to look back to 1909 as the first year that the American Automobile Association (AAA) Contest awarded the National Champion, that is not the case. The first AAA National Championship was held in 1916 and then next year it was run was 1920 and even then there is confusion over how many events and who the 'real' champion was. Then at the end of the 1955 season the AAA withdrew from racing, its placed being taken by the United States Auto Club (USAC).

From the 1956 season until 1979, USAC was the sanctioning body that declared the winner of the National Championship. After the split between CART and USAC, CART ran its own championship series starting in 1979 and still being run today. After the split between CART and the IRL, the IRL has conducted its own championship since 1996.

Which leads me back to the first topic I discussed in this column two years ago: the identity of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnu (AIACR) European Champion for 1939. Well, do we finally know if it was really Hermann-Paul (H.P.) Muller in an Auto-Union or Hermann Lang in a Daimler-Benz Mercedes? Not really, but thanks to the work by a number of good, hard-working over on The Nostalgia Forum, we certainly know much more than we did two years ago. Personally, I still lean towards Muller, but also still think that Lang was 'robbed' since he was the best driver in my opinion that season. However, life is like that.

It has been a distinct pleasure to write this column for the past two years. Indeed, one of the amazing things is that this column has lasted this long! There are few places where a column such as this could exist. Happily, Atlas F1 is one of those places.

Here in RVM, we careened through the 1959 season, a personal favorite of mine since I got to attend most of the races that season and was finally old enough to connect some of the dots, if you will. I pondered the fate of The Sport and often cast a jaundiced eye at events past and present. I also wrote about two of the greatest seasons ever 1982 and 1961. I am not sure if I did the subjects justice, but it was a joy tinged with sorrow at times to bring these seasons to the attention of many who may not have been familiar with the excitement of these wonderful and exciting seasons.

At present, I am working on a grand saga that is appearing in tiny increments in this column. For many, many reasons the years 1966 to 1968 were important to motor sports. And, to be honest, they were important to me on a personal level as well. While we tend to either glamorize the past all out of proportion or equally condemn it, it good to take few moments every other week and ponder the history of motor sports.

Another nice thing about this column (and its spin-off, The Nostalgia Forum) is the wonderful people I have met as a result of it. To sit and speak with the wonderful Cameron Argetsinger about how he went about organizing a World Championship Grand Prix in the matter of just a few weeks was fascinating. To be able to prowl through the archives at the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen is a delight. Thanks to Director Phil McCray and Librarian Mark Steigerwald, I have been able to answer questions that dogged me and think of many more new ones! And there are so many others that I hesitate to name them for fear of leaving anybody out.

However, many thanks to Mike Argetsinger and his brother Pete and the rest of the family, especially 'The Judge' and their mother, Jean for the wonderful hospitality they have given me. Leif, Matt, and Felix (usually better known as 'John's Dad') for being great friends. Hans, Roger, Allen, Ray, and so, many, many others for keeping me on the straight and narrow as far my facts are concerned. I never thought that I would be hobnobbing with Karl Ludvigsen! Or exchanging email with Tim Considine! However, I have to mention one person that I really think the world of my old buddy Tom O'Keefe. Thanks, Tom!

I hope that you have enjoyed the past two years of Rear View Mirror. I certainly have!

Next Time, Back to business:
"Daytona! The Eagle! Gossip! More Music! Panic sets in as the Season Approaches!"

Don Capps© 2007
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