Number 280: The Speed Issue

Just how important is speed? For IndyCar and NASCAR, the official line is that speed still has meaning and relevance, but not to the detriment of the quality of the racing, or safety.

Seems reasonable enough, and in the case of the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it doesn’t close the door on someone finally breaking Arie Luyendyk’s 237.498mph single-lap record or 236.986mph four-lap average, both set more than two decades ago in May 1996. But as Mark Glendenning notes in the cover feature of RACER’s Speed Issue, it’s not something that’s being actively pursued. The bottom line? If it happens, it happens.

Sure, the frisson of excitement that comes from drivers genuinely tilting at record speeds is part of IndyCar’s DNA, but if the alternative is the caliber of racing we’ve seen at the Indianapolis 500 in recent years, or Texas Motor Speedway’s August re-run, trading in 10mph doesn’t seem such a bad deal.

Contrast that with Formula 1’s plan to make its cars significantly faster next year – as in, four to five seconds a lap faster. It’s an impressive leap in performance and yet, as Mark Hughes puts it in his analysis of the 2017 technical changes, isn’t it answering the wrong question? Aren’t quicker lap times just smoke and mirrors, while the real question remains largely unanswered: how does F1 improve the racing and move beyond the tire-conserving, strategy-thons that it’s currently defined by?

But don’t get us wrong, we love speed and the untrammeled pursuit of it, which is why Bloodhound SSC and its target of 1,000mph – on the ground – resonates so much. Same goes for Danny Thompson’s single minded pursuit of the wheel-driven land speed record his father, Mickey, came tantalizingly close to almost 50 years ago.

So just how important is speed? Ask Danny. For him, it’s everything.

Watch The Great Cars Issue Video