As mentioned previously in this blog, I am active in motor racing as a car owner, mechanic, and public relations representative. I’ve first became a fan as a boy growing up in Milwaukee where we were surrounded by racing of all types. Especially during the years after the Braves broke our hearts and moved to Atlanta, racing was our local major league sport. The “big leagues” came to town seven times a year with Indy cars and USAC stock cars. Our local teams earned their stripes at five or six local tracks. There was so much racing the closest track had to have a separate night of racing to whittle the two hundred sportsman stock cars down to forty or so for the Saturday night contest.
Things sure have changed over the years. The big leagues have gotten bigger but unfortunately the local tracks have closed. That track which once hosted 200 cars on a Thursday is now a home improvement center. Kids no longer hang out at the corner gas station watching not much older kids weld up roll cages made of Buick driveshafts. The really attentive kids got promoted to “stooge” and earned the opportunity to splash leftover house paint on those home built specials. Mothers were not always enthused about the results on the clothing or the boy.
Last night, while performing my PR duties for my racing club, I had a startling revelation: the “stooges” have been replaced by the “boffins.” Where mechanics once looked at gages and argued over the “tune up,” a computer now gets plugged into the car and the designated “boffin” adjusts the timing, fuel curve, and inflection points. My car building heroes of the 1960s worried about whether they’d run out of beer or welding rods first; now the worry is, “Did someone forget to charge the laptop?”
The genie won’t go back in the bottle; we old-timers will just have to adapt. Some things still need an experienced eye though, and in racing, as in the gear business, it isn’t wise to rely too much on the computer. Not every decision can be made into a matrix and programmed.