In the past few months, since getting involved with the great crew over at Road Magazine I've found myself looking at Cars and Motorsport in a slightly different light. Don't get me wrong, I've always tried to keep an open mind about the industry, but actually getting involved and sharing my opinion has made me step back and try to view it as a whole. Not an easy task I might add. What I have started to notice in doing so, is that it's big, and it's broad. Much more so than I have ever thought before. It doesn't discriminate between demographics or socioeconomics. It's one of the few subjects that is likely to be a common interest between, let's just say a Tyre fitter from Alabama, USA, and an Investment Banker from London, England. Take a minute and let that swirl around your head. What other topics could two people from such different backgrounds (I am generalizing here to highlight a point) possibly have in common?
As with any new job or activity that you are partaking in, social media tends to broadcast it to your friends and family, which leads to conversations about said activity. These conversations have ranged from "That's awesome that you're doing something that you love" to "Wow, I didn't know that you were that in to Cars". It's these conversations with Non Motoring Enthusiasts (NME's) that have made me look at my own interest in the subject in a way that I never have before. Relax, I'm not going to enter that psychological mine field with you here. But it is that kind of thinking that has me looking at the subject in a much wider scope.
Since I was a kid I have always tried to stay abreast of current motoring news, my Automotive Magazine collection was quite impressive, spanning many years and types of publications, but looking back, it was quite a narrow field of interest, possibly due to the lack of exposure to an Aussie kid, in rural Australia, pre internet. My focus was more on the local market and classic muscle cars. This lead to my first car being a 1971 XY Ford Fairmont with quite a few modifications to suit the style of an 18 year old enthusiast (lowered, rims, flame throwers, the usual). When I moved away from home for school I found that true motoring enthusiasts were few and far between in the realm that I had put myself in, so my passion was kind of put in the closet so to speak, only coming out when I deemed it absolutely necessary, for fear of being pigeon holed as an out and out Hoon.
And so it stayed there for the next few years as I enjoyed the life of a broke Snowboarder in North America. I would still spend a lot of time searching classifieds for cheap cars that fit my desires of the time, mostly big American trucks (Bronco's and F-150's) never learning my lesson that such cheap rides were only ever a few hundred miles away from needing something fixed. It did, however, show me the benefits of having an old banged up POS that you never think twice about the aesthetics of.
It wasn't until I was living in Denver CO that I came across a rare (for the US) 1990 Audi Quattro V8 that I began to take notice of what the Europeans were capable of. In the 6 months that I had that car, before it completely shat itself, I found a renewed vigor in the motoring world. What had I been missing? This was one of many "Whoa!" moments that make you realize that there is still way more for you to learn about a subject that you are already quite passionate about. Living in the US, it was easy to find new segments and groups of people that got together to appreciate these segments. And this was just Colorado during the summers, I can only imagine what California or the East Coast had on offer every weekend. Even after returning to Australia, after almost 10 years away, it was fantastic to see how much diversity had developed, and with it, a greater acceptance of the industry as a whole, shedding some of that "Hoon" persona that I had grown up with.
I found that the only disappointing aspect of all of this diversity was the actual lack of knowledge of all this diversity. Most of the people that I spoke to over the years seemed to have one thing in common, a lack of interest in genre's other than their own. I've always found this odd. I'm not saying all car people are like this, but I've come across it enough over the years that it's become an obvious trend to me. People only seem to be in to the things that they know, and can be quite negative towards anything else. Whether it be different racing categories or different car clubs, the "us vs them" mentality is always there, keeping the diversity separate, somewhat thinning the numbers of each event. It was something that I just accepted through the years. Never pushed the issue with anyone that I met and kept conversations on the topics that they knew and were comfortable with. Nothing highlighted my own shortcomings of this more to me than NASCAR. I sat on the side of the fence that every other Non American sat with regard to this motorsport. I looked down on it, thought it was primitive and boring. Until I decided that there had to be something to this style of racing that people enjoyed, may as well give it a chance. Why not add a purpose to my hungover Sundays on the couch. Before I knew it, I was a fan. Didn't take long either. It was one of those things, that if you take the time to understand it, the real craft of it begins to shine through. Another "Whoa!" moment.
For me, this was all positive stuff, my love of cars and motorsport was encompassing an ever growing variety of disciplines and cultures. A trip to Europe last year (read about it here) and new friends that work in the industry in Germany, have cast a whole new light on the "how's and why's" of manufactures decisions and processes, further increasing my understanding, but unlocking even more avenues to explore. Yet, that disappointing aspect was still there, becoming even more baffling to me as I was looking more and more at the big picture. Why do so many people with such a similar interest have such divided attitudes, even disdain for other types of motoring? It hit me a few weeks ago, not like a tonne of bricks, more a warm, growing sensation as I looked back through my experiences over the years. I was pulling up to a tuner shop to ask about ECU mapping for my wife's Lancer Ralli-Art, I happened to take my truck down, as I hadn't run it in a while. As I pulled up to the entrance of the Garage full of Silvia's, GTR's and WRX's, I thought to myself that I might be starting off on the back foot by arriving in something this opposite to what these guys are interested in.
It only took a few minutes before the conversation turned to my truck and we were standing out next to it. I'm used to it attracting attention, an old Ford F-150 with a big lift, 37″ tyres and not much in the way of mufflers is pretty rare in this part of the world. I started to notice that although this is not their cup of tea, they were pointing out stuff that they liked about it, smiling and generally enjoying seeing something out of their realm. It got me thinking about all times I've been with people when they get to see a car or a race that was not in their scope of interest. How, if given a few moments to soak it in, they nearly always immediately find positive things, things that link what they're seeing to what they actually like, followed by the differences and usually the word "cool".
In all my "stepping back" to see the bigger picture, I missed the most basic part about the Automotive world and the people that are interested in it……..Wonder. When car people get in front of something new, we can't help but wonder, I wonder what it sounds like, what it goes like, how fast it is, how cool it is. No matter what your interest is in cars, something new and different will always make you wonder, pique your interest even when you weren't looking for that. Most of the time though, you need to be in it's presence to feel it. When was the last time you just stood in wonder, while soaking in something new and different?