History Lessons Could Produce Brighter Future


Check out this link to Dave Despain's latest perspective at SpeedTV and if you really have time on your hands, read my ranting below.
When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was founded in 1909 the vision of the founders was to provide a testing ground to develop automobiles. Some may dispute this notion, but they aren't students of auto racing history. The America of 1909 was largely devoid of quality public roads and if someone mentioned "wind tunnels" people would have thought they were talking about covered bridges on a blustery day. Mile horse tracks were simply not big enough to let an engine unwind and the beaches down Daytona way were both difficult to get to and only available at the whim of King Neptune, or whoever governs the tide.
Designing a car wasn't about CAD/CAM, it was about mechanical engineering, fabricating and trial and error. You simply needed some place to put ideas into action and see if they could go, or, too frequently, could not.
Times change, of course, and now we have wind tunnels and computer models and reams of data. Practice is about gathering data to set a race car up to go fast on that track, not to test technology. The innovations of yesteryear such as six-wheeled cars, steam power, four-wheel drive, turbine engines and twin-engine designs are long gone. People lament the cost of technology - and it is through the roof - but another issue more difficulat to grasp is that the car as we have defined it has moved into a late stage of maturity. It's gotten down to polishing it, placing helicopter tape over seams and worrying over decals and their impact on how "slippery" it is through the air. The things have been so refined that whether they are legislated to a certain spec or not, they inevitably will all look the same. The professionals know what works and it gets down to splitting hairs about who can do the same thing everyone else does just fractionally better.
Interesting? For guys like me, sure. But I have thought for five years now that with obvious inevitable and fundamental change in the auto industry looming that the opportunity to lead is within our grasp. This may first be a support series that could evolve into the main event, but however it may manifest itself the new level of relevance and intrigue this would create would be huge. How huge, of course, is the question. But something tells me that connecting the Speedway back to it original mission - developing nascent automobile technology - could produce only wonderful things.
Computers and wind tunnels would not go away. But the tremendous and historic stage that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would draw much needed focus to redefining the automobile as a sustainable device with national security implications through energy independence from petro-dictators. The Speedway could be a focal point for a community of engineers, scientists, unversity and commercial research institutions, the auto industry and investors all building the next great American economic engine. Imagine the vibrance, the relevance, the energy as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway launches into its second hundred years. Fantastic.