A Grumpy Glimpse Into The Future

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Feel free to file this under the Grumpy Old Man category. If you didn’t like my rant a couple of weeks ago on JR Hildebrand’s appearance, there’s a chance you might not agree with me on this topic either. Just remember – You’ve been warned.

Earlier this week, I attended one of those dreaded three-day conferences for my work. Lunch was provided one day along with a guest-speaker to distract us from the blandness of the obligatory baked chicken, green beans and watered-down iced tea. The speaker was presented as a futurist and an author of many books regarding the future. I will not use his name for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t remember it. Secondly, if I overcame my laziness and looked it up in my materials – he seemed very tech savvy and most certainly has Goggle alerts set up and I don’t feel like getting into a cyber-debate with him.

His topic was obviously about the future and what type of change we can expect in the next decade. Most know that I live by the mantra Change is Bad, but I gave it a listen anyway. I will mention that this fellow was not a millennial, but he was not as old as I am either. I would probably guess his age to be between forty-five and fifty. He did a solid job of recapping the technology explosion of the past fifteen to twenty years and summarizing the good and bad that has resulted from it. He then gave his vision of what the next decade would look like and the positives and negatives that would come about. This is where he and I differed.

The biggest advancement he discussed was the driverless automobile. He discussed the progress that Tesla, Google and others have made in this area. He marveled at the idea that one day we would all go to work in driverless cars that none of us will own, and will have been programmed to interact and function with all of the other driverless electric cars surrounding us in this new automotive age. He extolled the virtues of this scenario as providing less congestion, less pollution and all of the predictable environmental advantages. He beamed as he described this advancement in transportation over the one that has existed for over a hundred years, when people drove their own cars.

I may be in the vast minority here, but I actually enjoy driving. I get a thrill from it. I like the sound of a throaty engine. I like hearing that sound when I step on the accelerator and I like the sensation of being pressed against my seat when I do so. I enjoy feeling the lateral g-forces when I take a turn at high speeds. I’m a car enthusiast without the budget, and I would guess that most people that read this site would say the same.

When I was a teenager, my father noticed very quickly that I had a heavy foot. That continued into my twenties when he told me how that would all change when I finally matured in my thirties. It didn’t happen. At my ripe old age, I still enjoy going fast – but I hold it down simply because I don’t like paying speeding tickets or higher insurance premiums.

I don’t consider myself to be reckless, mind you. I go painfully slow in parking lots, through school zones and in residential areas. But when I get out on the open road, I do enjoy feeling what a car can do.

I own two cars; neither of which are known for power, but they both scratch my itch enough within my budget. In 2003, I bought a 1995 Mazda Miata M-Edition with a five-speed. I was in my mid-forties then and it satisfied my mid-life crisis. I still have it and love driving it occasionally, especially at this time of year. My every day car is a 2012 Honda Civic Coupe that I bought new. I searched high and low for one with a five-speed. My Honda dealer finally found one originally destined to Virginia from the factory. They made an arrangement with the dealer there and had it rerouted to Nashville. It took an extra month but I finally got it. Why did I go to so much trouble? Because I like driving a five-speed.

To me, a driverless car is a joyless car. I don’t see a car as something to get me from Point A to Point B. Instead, I see it as a form of recreation.

As he spoke and talked of the wonder of the driverless car, my mind kept going back to the movie Patton. In a scene just after the end of World War II, a reporter asks General Patton his opinion of the new “wonder weapons” that the Germans had been working on – long range rockets, push-button bombing and weapons that don’t need soldiers. The General’s response was “Wonder weapons? By God, I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics? Nothing is glorified? Nothing is reaffirmed? No heroes? No cowards? No troops? No Generals? Only those who are left alive and those that are left dead. I’m glad I won’t live to see it.”

This brings me around to my main fear – the future of racing. When I was growing up, there was nothing that got a kid’s attention more than a fast car. Whether it was a local hot-rod customized by the guy down the street or the sight of a Corvette to seeing a stock car or open-wheel car on display at a local mall – nothing drew the attention of me or any of my friends more than a car designed specifically for speed.

I’ll never forget the sight of the Sprite show-car that closely resembled the one driven by Wally Dallenbach in the 1969 Indianapolis 500 when it showed up at the local mall that summer. My friends and I rode our bikes to the mall just to drool over it. They couldn’t believe that I had seen that car race just a few months earlier.

As a teen I counted the months, days and hours until I got my driver’s license. Nothing at that time was more important than the ability for me to get behind the wheel and drive. A family friend about ten years older than me told me how dumb that was. He said within a year, I’ll wish I’d never gotten it. He said driving is a pain and that I would be begging people to drive for me. That was over forty years ago and it hasn’t happened yet.

I love cars. I love to look at them and I love to drive them. I had already attended the Indianapolis 500 many times by the time I got my license. My question is; am I a car guy because I love the Indianapolis 500, or do I love the Indianapolis 500 because I’m a car guy? I’m not sure which came first.

So what is my fear? My fear is that in today’s culture, cars are not revered. They are considered necessary evils used strictly for transportation. Yes, some are more loaded down with technology than others – but a pure beast that is designed for speed instead of comfort has gone the way of the rolodex.

Today’s teen is where the future of motor racing lies. While there will always be exceptions, the average teenager does not get excited over fast cars. They might recognize a Porsche or Ferrari they see on the street, but only because they remember it from Forza 7, the latest in the video game series that I’ll admit is very lifelike – but it’s still a game in the virtual world. Most teens get much more excited over the latest game, platform or the iPhone X coming out next month than they do actually seeing, hearing and smelling a true race car at speed.

The other night on Trackside, Kevin Lee admitted that the average age that listened to their show was well above forty. I’m thinking it might even be higher than that, but I have nothing to base that on. We over forty represent the demographic of those that live and breathe IndyCar racing and plan our entire year around the events in central Indiana each May. The up and coming generation is more interested in technology power than horsepower. If the driverless car makes them drool, I fear for the future of racing. I think I speak for the majority of us that have no interest in watching an Indianapolis 500 featuring driverless cars. That sounds extreme and ridiculous, but is that what it’s coming to?

I wish you could have witnessed this speaker the other day. The more he talked about driverless cars, the more lathered up you could tell he was getting. I’m thinking he would love to see thirty-three driverless cars battle it out for five-hundred miles at IMS. To paraphrase General Patton…“By God, I don’t see the wonder in it”.

Contrary to popular belief, true IndyCar fans don’t attend races to watch the crashes. But we do marvel at the heroics of these drivers who risk their bodies and possibly their lives to take that car as close to the edge as possible. What heroics are there when a driverless car does that? The spectacle of racing comes from the men and women who combine skill and bravery to test those limits every lap. Take all of the danger out of racing and I don’t think you’ve got much of a sport.

Do I sound like someone with the “Get off of my lawn” mentality? Am I so old that I’m that out of touch with what people want to see? Formula E does not excite me in the least. Formula Driverless excites me even less. Maybe others want to see this in the future. Perhaps this is what racing will come to in the coming years. But to quote General Patton one last time – I’m glad I won’t live to see it.

George Phillips

Please Note:  Susan and I will be travelling to Illinois this weekend to be present at the wedding of our good friend Paul Dalbey, previously from More Front Wing. We’ll be driving back Sunday, so there will be no post here on Monday October 9. I will return here on Wednesday October 11. Please join me in congratulating Paul and his lovely bride-to-be, Kelli, on their upcoming nuptials. – GP

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12 Responses to “A Grumpy Glimpse Into The Future”

  1. Jack in Virginia Says:

    George, I see the same thing happening in aviation, but even faster. When I was a kid, nearly every boy (and a few girls) were into building and flying model airplanes. Where you love cars, I love airplanes and have always thought them the ultimate of human achievement. Not so with kids today and aviation as a hobby is dying quickly. Now they are talking about pilotless planes, using technology similar to that used in drones (which I also dislike – last week a drone hit a Blackhawk helicopter over NYC at 1500′. Why would anyone fly a drone that high? Sooner or later someone is going to be killed by a drone hitting an airplane). I’m not looking forward to such a future.

  2. George, First off I want to thank you for taking time off your busy race day schedule to meet with my son and I at Gateway. In my opinion both your appraisal of the possible future of automotive endeavor and that of Mr. Phillips on aviation are spot on. Growing up when I was about 12 and an “Engine nut” I was enamored with the workings and sound of the internal combustion engine. I bought a small O.K.Cub model airplane engine and since my father was uninterested in such things I spent a bunch of time learning how to get it to run as it should. The next summer after mowing lawns, working in the orchard and farms I had the amazing sum of $50 so I talked my father into letting me purchase a basket case “Wizzer” sport motor bike. I’m sure he thought that it was money down the drain and it would never, never run. However by trial and error and reading what I could find it did and I spent a lot of time riding it (and fixing it). At 15 about 6 months before my 16th birthday I got my 1947 Chev, since I had 6 months till I could drive it I decided to make it sound better. I removed the exhaust manifold and took it to the local welding shop to have it split (modified to have dual exhaust) so along with a pair of “glass pack” mufflers it really talked to me and I would simply sit in the car and rev her up to listen to it. I feel that interacting with the mechanical part gave me a real enjoyment of what it was to drive. I still love to drive and will jump at the chance to drive anything. I volunteer at a military museum and in that capacity along with my military experience has been able to drive many unique things including tanks. For our 50th anniversary my wife treated me to the “Indy Experience” and even thou I didn’t drive lapping Indy at speed was beyond belief. Driverless, quite cars, no way!

  3. I drive a 5 speed by choice . I missed trackside this week . I know 18 year old kids that have no cares to drive . The state of Indiana of have so many styles of roads and surfaces making it one of the best places in the states to learn how to drive and improve your skills , I took a back road country road route between Rushville IN and Edinburg IN and only passed one car in 33 miles . 30 years ago I would have lost count on those back roads the first 10 miles . I knew then then kids were inside with their X-Boxes . The series are going to need these kids in the future then build a Skateboard Park in the coke lot . At least a skateboard has wheels . The X-Gamer kids is the base future market .

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Futurists do get very excited talking about driverless cars, but it is not the cars they are excited about so much as potential impact they might have on everyday people’s lives. The average person is also not especially interested in the driverless car itself either, only the possibility that they will be able to do something else while being chauffeured to their destination through heavy urban traffic.

    It is often said that many people now, particularly young people, view cars as simply an appliance and take little pride in owning them. The driverless car, whether owned or unowned, only exacerbates this mentality. From that standpoint, I doubt driverless racing (even human-controlled drone racing) will ever be anything of much significance, much less ever catch on as a near-mainstream sport.

    Unrelated to racing post-script: While I have very little interest in using them, driverless cars are coming. But they are coming with cost, infrastructure, insurance liability, economic impact, and privacy concerns that I too often do not see addressed by excited futurists. I would not bet on their adoption (or the adoption of fully electric cars) being as rapid as many believe.

    • Billy nails all of it here. I’ll just chip in that as interested as I am in RoboRace (the driverless support series for FIA Formula E that starts up next year), and seeing what sorts of engineering solutions are applied to things like “how do two different cars deal with a sudden loss of traction?” and “what happens when two driverless cars go for the same piece of track at the same time?”, in no way do I think it’s ever going to be anything beyond a racing side show and an experimental proving ground for driverless tech. The big auto races, as long as they exist (which is not a thing that I care to predict the time period of), will always have a field of cars that each contain a human driver.

  5. This is one of George’s best posts of the year if not the best. George knows that I have suffered three brain seizures within the last 8 months. As you might expect I am bewildered because the causes are not yet known. However, I am now ready to attribute the causes of the seizures to reading about driverless cars. Horrible!
    I love driving for all the reasons that George mentioned above: Pedal to the metal, squealing tires, the sound of a burnt-out glass pack exhaust, downshifting late at night in a sleepy small town, going around curves right on the ragged edge, ……….and such. Yeah. That is where the wonder is.

    Electric cars at IMS? Driverless cars at IMS? FAHGETTABOUTIT!

  6. Chris Lukens Says:

    First I’ll comment on self driving cars ( & by a smaller token, cars with “Driver aids” like auto braking & lane drift indicators ).
    They are a lawyers fondest dream.
    If I get hit by a driverless car, and I have an ambulance chaser worth his salt, he will sue the owner, the car manufacture, the manufacture of the computer in the car, the programmer of the computer, the dealership who sold the car and probably the salesman who sold the car. And I think we would win, somebody somewhere did not do their job. A class action lawsuit like this could be as big as the Takata air bag kerfuffle.

    Second, kids and the future of racing. As long as we don’t fall to the level of the “Autonomous Electric Indy 500 Presented by Google and sponsored by Mid-West Power & Light,” auto racing will be fine. It’s true, a small percentage of kids are interested in racing, but it’s also true that a small percentage of adults are interested in racing. Spend some time at a local “Tuner Meet” for import cars. The first thing you will notice is that these kids LOVE their cars. Second, you’ll notice the huge HP these kids are pulling out of those little two and three liter engines. They are true motorheads. Once these kids get past Drifting, go to a sprint car race and see some real drifting, they will be race fans for life. The racing powers that be need to realize that there is demographic out there that not being under served, they are being ignored.

  7. I’m with you 100% George driving has always been fun and still is. I too am painfully slow in the city and residential areas but when I get on the interstate, its hammer down. My driving record in the State of Colorado since I was 16 has many infractions over 65 mph. When I hear younger people talk about driverless this, automated that, I just want to puke. I heard you had a Honda reading your blogs and we almost drive the same car. I have a 2012 Honda Civic Si coupe. All though it only has about 200hp and that is all on the top end, that car is fun to drive it still puts a smile on my face every day. Is your paint starting deteriorate yet on the roof?

    I too fear for the future of racing and when the topic comes up I tend to just try to think of something else because it is just too depressing. What is going to happen when race fans of this era die off? Those of us that are, say 40 and older? Formula E is like castrating a race car to me. Hybrids have great power and are very relevant as F1 proves but maybe the internal combustion engine appeals to those who grew up with it along with their fathers and grandfathers. There will be a day when it will be gone and racing will have to adapt to that and the product is Formula E and that would explain why so many manufacturers are jumping into it.

  8. If the Indianapolis 500 ever came to electric cars then I will be out. Why not have robots play football like the teams that played for George Jetson. Indianapolis is all about the engine and the driver. That is it.

  9. Thanks George for a great post. I drove a 5 speed for many years and still miss winding out second and third. I’ve been driving this automatic for 7 years and still reach to downshift to stop.

    For me having my driver’s license at 16 meant independence. Still does and I plan to hang on to it until the last moment when I could no longer drive. I’ve spent many years sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the Long Beach freeway 5 days a week. But when I can get away from town and can go way over 65 miles per hour, I’m in 7th heaven.

  10. Unfortunately there are some powerful groups out there that wish that the common person would not be able to own their own cars. But I just don’t think that will win out in the US as long as we remain free.

    Everyone is concentrating on what they think the “millenials” think. But that will change for succeeding generations and even for the “millenials” themselves. Don’t count the Indy 500 out any time soon.

    Driverless cars. They might come to a degree. But I really doubt they will ever be really commercially viable. Plus, there is a very dangerous national security risk for those. Take the satellites out in a war or similar situation, and every car will have to be driven. For national security reasons, they can never get rid of “driver mandatory vehicles.” No matter how much some would want it.

  11. three things:
    1. “Change is Bad”. nope. another gray hair means you’re alive.
    2. the future of racing: a funeral by funeral dwindling down.
    3. driverless cars. there will be a driver. it won’t be you.

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