Nostalgia, History, and the Record Books

Nostalgia: wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. History: a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events. Record: a collection of related items of information (as in a database) treated as a unit. All these definitions come from the 11th Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2003).

If, as I pointed out, the Championnat du Monde des Conducteurs that the Commission Internationale Sportive of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile established in late 1949 and which took effect with the 1950 season was terminated (suppressed) with the end of the 1980 season, then so did its records. Or did they? As some argued, quite forcibly in several instances, when I noted the legal demise of the CSI world championship for drivers, it made no difference since no one (that being defined as the fans in this case) noticed and things continued very much they were. There were also those who pointed out that it really did not matter since the FIA scarcely blinked and continued to march forward with its version of history in 1981, which looked just like that from 1980.

All this ruckus took place nearly a quarter of a century after the FIA ditched the Old Championship – actually, championships since the Coupe Internationale des Constructeurs Formule 1 got tossed on the rubbish heap of history well as well — and replaced it with the New Championships, Championnat du Monde de Formule Un de la FIA, one for Conducteurs and another for Constructeurs. The 1981 edition of the FIA’s Annualiare du Sport Automobile (Year Book of Automobile Sport) makes it very clear that this is a new world championship.

Other than the FIA now owning the commercial rights to the New Championship, the Concorde Agreement, and the poachers now doubling as game wardens, one might be quite happy to readily agree with the notion that things rolled right along without missing a beat. This, naturally, makes explaining the rise of Bernie Ecclestone and the role of CVC Capital Partners a bit more challenging. All this, as they say, is a story best told elsewhere, one that is infinitely more interesting than anything that has taken place on the tracks in recent years.

It is the history or the records that concerns this musing, however.

I would suggest that history ended at the end of the 1980 for the Old Championship and began anew in 1981 for the New Championship. Were I to construct such a history, that is how I would do it. Of course, the conniption fits, bellyaching, and outrage of the F1 Faithful, the Enthusiasts, and the Fanboyz (and FanGirlz), along with the mutterings regarding such a thing by the F1 “racing historians,” would be deafening. But, so what? I would suggest that there is far more to being a “racing historian” than compiling box scores of races and being enthusiastic about the sport. That the usual concepts associated with History do not apply to racing is, of course, a given. One need not have a clue as to how to approach explaining or researching the past to be a “racing historian,” such things often spoiling the fun.

Well, that is a bit harsh, given that everyone needs to start somewhere and professional, academically-trained historians are scarcely loved within the greater domain of sports history, especially when they do not display the necessary reverence or requisite appreciation of the topic. While historians do engage in nitpicking, being a nitpicker does not necessarily make one an historian.

The FIA’s rather cavalier attitude towards history is shared by its fellow-travelers, the various journalists and the many others beholden to and gobsmacked by the sport. Many know no better and others could care less, the past being that murky, hazy area residing in the past, with nostalgia often being mistaken of history.

As in the case of the FIA, the INDYCAR organization has make something of complete mess out of the past. Given that the Indy Racing League was created on 11 March 1994 and held its first event in January 1996, it is difficult to fathom how its history goes back beyond that. In the beginning, both the United Sates Auto Club (USAC) and the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) dated their histories from 1956 and 1979, respectively. Both then reached back to include others who preceded them. The Champ Car World Series (CCWS) of 2004 to 2008 was something quite separate from CART, given that CART was legally dissolved. Then there was the American Automobile Association (AAA), whose Racing Board (1902-1909) and Contest Board (1909-1955) served as the national sanctioning body for the United States, taking the seat from the Automobile Club of American (ACA) on the CSI in 1928 as the representative of the United States on the commission.

More to follow on all this.

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