From 1900 to 1970, motor racing was as much about developing new automotive technology as it was about being a spectator sport. Today, that’s no longer the case.
Some of my favorite cars of all time include the amazing Silver Arrow race cars from Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz in the 1930s, the futuristic-looking Chaparral Can-Am cars that tore up the tracks in the 1960s, and the captivating winged Superbirds and Daytonas that swept through the superspeedways in the early 1970s.
From roughly 1900 to 1970, motor racing was as much about developing new automotive technology as it was about being a spectator sport. Important innovations in powertrains, metallurgy, aerodynamics, suspension geometry, steering and brakes were transferred from the race track to the assembly line during those 70 years. Racing improved all vehicles.
Today, that’s no longer the case. Now most auto makers use motor racing simply as a marketing tool.
That’s partly because there is little room to innovate. Almost all racing categories have become spec series in which teams are forced to develop very similar, if not identical, cars that must meet specific and exacting rules. The racing organizers do that to level the playing field. They don’t want anyone to have an unfair advantage. But that’s not what produces new thinking and technological breakthroughs.
Sadly, when it comes to electronics and safety, more technology is transferred from production cars to racing cars than vice versa. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Auto makers are missing out on an important opportunity. We need to get back to our roots.
But how do you start a brand-new racing series that instantly will attract participants, sponsors and spectators? It can be done, but it would require an effort that captivates the public’s imagination.
My idea is to form a racing series called Formula None. That’s because there would be no rules. You just “run what you brung.” The size, shape, weight, powertrain and fuel would be determined by each team. The idea would be to turn engineers’ minds free to do whatever they want, then stand back and watch what happens.
There would be no rulebook or tech inspection except for some simple regulations that apply to a safety cocoon that protects the driver. Other than that, the goal is to produce a machine that can tear around a track (road course, oval, or public roads) as fast as possible.
Formula None would attract participants and sponsors from outside the automotive industry, especially from the aerospace, defense and electronics industries. It would cross-pollinate different industries with new ideas and designs.
Can you imagine the public’s anticipation to see what the teams would show up with every year?
Starting a new racing series wouldn’t be easy. But it could be done. I’m throwing the idea out there hoping that someone will grab it and run with it, even if it just starts out as a once-a-year race. Maybe as a support race for one of the bigger events.
Over time, Formula None could become the biggest and most relevant racing series of them all.
John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.