atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

The Romans Would Understand This

The Indy 500 is running right now, and sitting through the long-winded BS in the "pre-race show" I had occasion to think about what I was seeing.

I actually went out and bought car maintenance stuff this morning. Knowing that the "pre-race" BS would take at least an hour, I went to AutoZone for oil change stuff, belts, and such. I made four stops and got home 45 minutes later and the pre-race was still bloviating.

I heard a wowser: "The weather is going to play a factor!" Well shut my mouth! I never! Those announcers are geniuses! A 500-mile race, held outdoors, and weather is going to play a factor!

For crying out loud, when wouldn't it play a factor? It's extra-hot today, but if it was extra-cold, they would say the same damn thing; if it was 70° and cloudy they'd say it, too. It doesn't matter what the weather is. It'll play a factor regardless. The guy might as well have said, "There's going to be weather today!" Or "This race will have a winner!" (Come to think of it they did say something like that, that out of the 33 entrants, there's going to be a single winner. O Lord.)

I try always to watch the Indy 500 even though I don't follow any sort of racing. For me, it's like watching the Super Bowl (which I have set out to watch exactly once: number XX, 1986, when the Chicago Bears actually won the stupid thing).

But all the pageantry and such--the Romans would have understood it; and when I realize things like that I understand our race a little better.

The Romans would not have been able to comprehend (without explanation) the machines, the speed, the desire to avoid crashes, etc, but the idea of a speed competition, the hailing of the drivers, and all the rest of it--that would have required no explanation.

2,000 years ago the notion of a race run over 500 miles--and in a single afternoon!--would have stunned them. They had chariot races but they were limited to the endurance of the horses pulling the chariots--you can't run a horse at top speed for very long; that tends to use up horses, and horses were expensive.

In the days of the Roman Empire, horses were expensive and chariots were the "exotic" vehicles of their day. They were war machines, designed for battle. (The Romans didn't actually use chariots in battle; they were used only for racing and for parades. But they did originate in warfare.) The Romans had no technology for building wheel bearings; the chariot had a basic wheel-and-axle which was greased (probably with animal fat) and which would wear out fairly quickly; the main advantage of the chariot was speed, and if you look at the basic design of a chariot you see that it's meant to allow someone to lay about himself with a sword. His speed made him less vulnerable to attack from the people participating in the battle he was driving through.

This is why they had the trouble with axles breaking. We use oil-film bearings quite successfully in modern engines, but those have a continuous supply of oil being pumped, under pressure, into the bearings. Even if your car's engine can be run at 10,000 RPM, the bearings are oil-film bearings. But if the oil stops flowing, for any reason, those bearings will destroy themselves very quickly, even at idle.

Put a wheel with a wooden hub on an axle and it will wear out, even if you grease it, fairly quickly. According to Wikipedia, chariots in the Iron Age had iron axles and hubs. These would last longer than wood, but they'd still wear quickly, especially if the grease heated up and ran out of the bearing, or got contaminated.

Fan Injury??
Hmm, a fan just got hit with a piece of debris from a wreck. That's the first time that's happened in a while. Apparently a car hit a chunk of the car that wrecked, and part of the chunk flew 'way up into the stands. Someone just got either very lucky, or very unlucky, depending. Since he reportedly walked out under his own power, with the medical crew, I would say "lucky" since they'll probably fall over themselves to treat him extra-nice in the hopes of avoiding a lawsuit. He'll probably have the Indy 500 experience of a lifetime, at least for a member of the hoi-polloi. The tickets say "we're not responsible for your injuries" on the back of them but any halfway competent lawyer won't be scared by that....

Hmm, "hoi polloi"--a term with its roots in Greek, from which the Romans took some of their culture...

Wikipedia article: It's really interesting stuff.

So we have this huge annual event, and the drivers are celebrated athletes. And many people watch just to see the wrecks, if any.

Really, it's true that "the more things change, the more they stay the same".

ADDENDUM: I have to wonder if Nero would have been a fan of NASCAR, or CART, or Indy Cars?

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