(Allard J2X-C photo courtesy of ultimatecarpage.com)
July 11th, 1993. A day that will live in my memory for the rest of my life. The day I received the greatest birthday present I've ever been given, even though it was one month(to the day) AFTER my birthday.
That day, my father took me to the Grand Prix of Cleveland, and I witnessed one of the greatest battles in all of racing: Nigel Mansell vs Emerson Fittipaldi.
That day, I got hooked on IndyCars. Nothing else mattered. I was ten and I'd just seen a spectacle that nothing could ever match.
To this day, that battle rates in my mind as the best battle in all of racing history. It almost certainly gets bonus points in my mind for the circumstances surrounding my trip to the track, but few moments in racing before or since can match the quality of that battle. The best way I can think to sum up the battle is to use but two words: "Pure awesome."
I've been to every Cleveland Grand Prix since then, with the exception of 2003 and 2004. As far as I'm concerned, no track will ever match Cleveland. Its just that good.
Why am I telling you this? Because our first race exposure strongly shapes what kind of racing we enjoy. Think about the first race you saw, and what type of racing you prefer now. Was it an oval? You're probably a NASCAR fan, then. Was it a road course? God only knows what you're a fan of these days.
Back when Mansell and Fittipaldi's battle blew my brain out the back of my head, I had no idea there was anything other than IndyCar out there. Perhaps at that moment it was for the best—I didn't have to witness the demise of the IMSA GT Championship. NASCAR was still dominated by pseudo-rednecks. Formula One was...well...Dull next to IndyCar of the time.
I wish I'd been exposed to racing of an earlier time. I occasionally scour Youtube for some good old IMSA GT/Group C videos, and I'm sometimes astonished at the kind of things I've missed. I think this sense of missing out is why I've latched onto the American Le Mans Series—the spiritual successor to IMSA GT, they've produced some of the best road-racing action of the current racing era.
They can run on the worst road and street courses on the planet and still be almost guaranteed to put on a good show.
Much like the IMSA GT Championship once did, and the original Can-Am series before that.
To this day my dad says I missed out on the best racing ever with the Can-Am series. I want to believe him, but its hard to when you've enver been able to see videos of Can-Am races.
Why do I love racing? Because I find it beautiful. Man (sometimes woman) and machine merging together in a symphony of noise and speed to find their way to the finish line first. Because its the only really pure sport left: Fastest driver around the track wins.
I find my only limitation in racing enjoyment comes down to the cars. I find it difficult to enjoy racing that uses cars based on production models. Touring cars and such do nothing for me—I BARELY care about the GT classes in ALMS. NASCAR manages to hold my interest BECAUSE the cars aren't anything like their name—stock car—implies.
I can enjoy an ugly box of a car like the CoT so long as its a fast purpose-built racecar driven by some of the best drivers in the world. I can enjoy that...THING...the IRL uses so long as it puts on an awesome show.
I don't even really need to be able to see the vehicle being used to race. MotoGP is pretty awesome, though a little too short, I feel.
A great series combines great vehicles, great personalities, and great racetracks. What series has it best? Well, that really doesn't matter, does it?
In the end, all race fans are tied together by one thing: A love of speed.
So forget about this driver is better than that driver, or this series is better than that series. Lets all just have a seat, crack open a cold one(be it a beer, soda, or something else), and enjoy the operatic symphony of engine noise and the sight of sheet metal or carbon fiber being destroyed when someone screws up. Lets be happy for the other guy's driver when he wins—it doesn't automatically mean your driver sucks, after all.
But most importantly, let us never, EVER look down upon another series as inferior to our preferred form of racing. In the end, the goal of it all is the same: Control your equipment and go faster than anyone else.
It all boils down to that. So why do we even argue over such petty things? Racing is racing, and its all good.