Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Car: An Introduction to Racing in Europe

Ireland is said to have one nice month of weather a year and this month was used by the turn of the 20th century European car culture to come and race the emerald hills.  Most people don't like dark weather - clouds, rain, and the like because it limits outdoor comfort, yet there are many things that can be done in the Fall and Winter.  The wet season is the best time to collect mushrooms, for example.  But there are certain times when nice weather is needed.  The car culture seized the dry days as an opportunity to roll over the dirt roads that line the hills in metal carraiges with the speed of horses.

The one nice month is September.  The sun shines every day and the fair skinned Irish get to warm their bones.  Drinking their stouts the Irish lay out in the fields and sing and dance until the sun goes down.  So to did the rest of Europe celebrate the month by driving the twisted backroads and hilly cliffsides to burn their rubber on.

Europe adopted car racing as a major sport at the turn of the 20th Century.  Europe has been highly industrialized and the people were craving dramatic entertainment; the car combined both in an unbridled and unforgiving manner.  Races would end in deathly crashes and sometimes would never end at all.  Many were called off when too many cars ended up in ditches on the side of the roads.  Yet this added to the excitement and lined the grandstands that much more.

Where there were races from Bordoux to Barcelona in July, and Berlin to Amsterdam in August, the racing circuit came to Ireland in September.  The cars were loaded off the ferries in Cork and carted to various towns for their respective races.  Most raced north to Dublin where the prize was biggest, some drove west to Galway where the fanfare was greater.  These were the two main races.

Jack, who was Irish but had moved to England to build cars a few years earlier, liked the money but loved the promotion of racing.  Racing had created a fanbase that was as populated by men as it was women.  The fans would spend hours lined up on the roads to watch the cars go by.  Women wore their sexiest outfits to cheer on the drivers and men chewed their stogies as they waited for the wiz of the autos.

It drew to its base people who liked to be excited.  The car is a sexy beast afterall:  a man made monster as fast as a horse at the push of the pedal, it could be driven with ease where no bike could go before.  It was also a status symbol that drew those who had never driven or even seen one.  And this popular culture was just getting started.

Jack had been racing as long as anyone.  He started when he built a soapbox car from his father's scrap pile and took it to a nearby hill and ran it down the road.  He crashed it on its first run but instead of licking his wounds he studied how to rebuild it.  Soon he had learned how to not only build fast soapbox cars but also how to seat an engine in an automobile.

He took his knowledge to England where cars were attracting a lot of investment.  Shops had popped up in every city and cars were now populating the streets.  Racing had began to catch on too but was still in its infintile stage.  Racing was biggest on mainland Europe, especially in France and Spain where the summer was longer than the north country.  Jack hoped to race in France one day but first needed to make a name for himself.  France was the big leagues and to get in the big leagues one needed a big sponser.

Jack's current sponser was the owner of the car shop he worked for.  His name was Mickey and was an Irishman as well.  Mickey was an older man than Jack, rounded by years of eating pot pies and drinking whiskey.  Mickey was one of the first to open up an auto shop in Manchester in the large industrial park downtown.  A man who liked to tinker with mechanics he had sold bikes before cars.

"There is a similarity between a bike and a car," he would say, "On the outside it is the wheels and gears, but there is also the ability to move quicker than the legs can work by themselves."

Mickey had been making cars for a few years before Jack showed up.  His cars were at first commisioned by private mechanics who would rent the shop to build them and then the cars were sold to Mickey.  After awhile Mickey discovered if he bought the parts it made him more money to pay the mechanics a flat wage to build the machines.  Mickey's was one of the first car plants and dealerships in England.

Mickey was a decent mechanic but a great salesman.  He knew how a car was put together well enough to answer any questions about them and it was much more profitable for the shop to have Mickey spend his time on the floor and have the hired mechanics make the product.

He was bringing the automobile to the common man but only the common men with money.  There were many lords and sirs who bought from Mickey but also some who were not privelaged with castles and acres of fox hunting land.  It would be another decade before cars would be mass assembled and so his clients were wealthy men who had the funds to be the first car owners. 

The men who would come to buy cars were first offered a drink as Mickey greeted them at the door to the floor of the garage.  Then Mickey would find out why the man wanted a car and tell him those were the perfect reasons to buy one.  Because not many people had driven cars Mickey would have Jack or one of the other two mechanics take them for a test drive around the city streets.  When they got back the men were usually excited enough to ink a sale.

Jack had been working for Mickey for a year when he convinced him to sponser Jack in a race.

"Imagine!  We could put the name of the shop on the side and everyone in town would know where to buy their first car!"

Mickey slept on the idea, or rather drank on it, and came back to Jack the next day.

"How much will it cost me?"

"Tell you what Mickey, if you sponser the car at the races I'll split the winnings with you."

"Now you're thinking about winning the races?  You sure are a confident man, Jack.  You've never raced a car in your life and you're thinking about winning.  So how much is it going to cost me?"

After Jack and Mickey figured out how much a sponsership was for races in England they shook hands on it.  Mickey was now a sponser and Jack was a race car driver.

Jack and the two other mechanics went to the local pub that night to discuss their future in racing.

"Does that mean we will get to race too?"  Asked Dave.  Dave was a kind hearted Brit who did mostly  grunt work for the shop.

"Well, there has to be two cars on a team, and I know I will be driving that second car."  Said Sean.  Sean was a lumbering Scot who could out drink anyone at the bar on any given night.

Jack looked at Dave, "Mickey wants Sean driving the second car."

"Probably because we drink the same whiskey."  Joked Sean.

"You drink the same whiskey because you drink his whiskey."  Dave pointed out.

"That's not true and even if it were true he would never know because he drinks so much he can't miss any of it."

Sean slammed his drink down and motioned to the keep for a refill.

"Dave, we will need you to be a live mechanic at the start of the races, so don't act like you aren't a part of the team."

Dave smiled.  More than anything he liked being part of this crew.  Sean and Jack were cool guys and Mickey's was one of the better shops to work at.

"Cheers!  To our new racing careers!"

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