Today marks the biggest race of any sort in the entire world: The Olympic 100 meter dash. It is the signature event of the Games, a race that distills sports down to their most basic element. Men and women representing their nations simply sprint, and the fastest is crowned with one of the world’s most prestigious titles of any sort. It is something auto racing clamors for, leading to a now-traditional cycle of questions about why our sport has never really seen the kind of international competition that much smaller sports, like archery and rhythmic gymnastics, have enjoyed at the Olympics for so long. The question is compelling, but the answer is simple: Auto racing and the Olympics do not need each other.
For the International Olympic Committee, the answer is fairly simple. The Olympics are successful as they are and largely only add new events to appeal to either younger audiences or audiences that do not participate in the major sports that make up the core of the modern Games. While the fairly young sports of skateboarding and surfing have joined this year’s Games to appeal to that crowd, auto racing’s much older crowd based predominantly in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States are largely expected to already be interested in the Olympic sports already offered.
For auto racing, the question is a little bit more murky. Sure, it is a major sport in its own right that already succeeds with its own power, but the same can be said for basketball, tennis, golf, cycling, and hockey. It can be easy to see why adding an Olympic medal to the trophies that can be won by a great driver would be appealing, especially when so many racing series take the time off every four years to accommodate the Games anyway. Designing an Olympic auto racing format is a fun hypothetical, too; is this a Race of Champions style exhibition with a variety of cars, or is this more like cycling in that the committee simply creates a variety of races that replicate what various series do week to week?
That hypothetical points to the practical reason why auto racing and the Olympics have intersected just one time. International competition for auto racing has been attempted, but it has largely been difficult to organize correctly. The short-lived A1GP series, spec open wheel with an international format, found it lacked both an audience and any semblance of balance. The Race of Champions still runs on occasion, but its gimmicky stadium layout makes it little more than a fun way to pass an offseason weekend. Any actual attempt at international auto racing would have to be both very expensive and very well thought out.
But, ultimately, the real reason auto racing does not need the Olympics lies in the major sports that do partner with the Games. For those sports that already have a well-defined peak on their own, an Olympic medal is something like a sideshow, a half-hearted exhibition that varies in value wildly depending on how successful the participant is in other events before they enter the Games. This would not change for auto racing. An Olympic gold medal would fall below an Indianapolis 500 win, an F1 title, or a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and, in a sport that already cannot decide what its top event actually is, that very quickly makes an Olympic title more trouble than it is worth.
So we are left with a boring reality we already know. Auto racing is a sport contested by teams, not drivers, and the teams who participate are already the best of the best without any chances for gold medals available. With auto racing, the quintessential 20th century sport, unlikely to be hunted by the International Olympic Committee as a key element of future Games, the best in the world will continue spending full years hunting for championships in the many major categories of racing that already command significant international respect. Auto racing and the Olympics are doing just fine without each other, so they have no reason to work together any time soon.
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