The roar of the engines, the smell of fuel and oil, the cheers of the crowd-the biggest weekend in auto racing history is over. And I still don't appreciate it. I fully recognize millions of people are nuts over auto racing. Speed has tremendous appeal to many, and the Memorial Day weekend, with the simultaneous running of the Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600 and upstart U.S. 500, had to be an incredible experience for racing buffs. But not for me.
Oh, I once followed the Indy 500 with great interest. When I was a kid, we were a Ford Family: My father was a supervisor at a Ford Motor Co. plant, and we drove only Fords. We even made the pilgrimage to Dearborn, Mich., visiting the shrine to Henry Ford. Company loyalty was a big thing in the 1950s, before the emergence of corporate raiders, permanent replacement workers and downsizing.
Company loyalty certainly is a reason some people are fascinated with Indy car racing. I'm intrigued by the competitive sparks that fly between Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear employees over the racing situation. I'm not talking about just public relations operatives or top company executives, either, but engineers, production workers, people in the trenches. I've heard some serious boasting about whose tires will kick whose butts on the track. Lots of company loyalty from people who otherwise often bad-mouth their employers for poor management or insensitivity.
Drivers riding on Firestone-brand tires won two of the three races (the Indianapolis 500 and the U.S. 500). But the victories were bittersweet, for the United Steelworkers were out in force at both races, condemning Bridgestone/Firestone for so-called unfair labor practices and the illegal hiring of strikebreakers.
Give the union credit for not resorting to crass statements about the death of racer Scott Brayton, whose car crashed after a made-in-Japan Firestone tire hit something and ruptured.
The tragedy that took Brayton's life points to an important reason auto racing is popular. People can't duplicate but certainly can empathize with the performance of drivers who cheat death at 240 mph. And let's face it, there's a morbid curiosity about disasters. That's why crash photos from tracks always are featured on TV and in print. Hey, I look at them, too.
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News.