Back when I was a kid, Minis were still made by British Leyland, Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter played soccer for Leeds United and James Hunt generally behaved badly and would punch the lights out of any poor unsuspecting marshall standing between his stricken car and the route to the nearest bar!
Looking back with rose tinted spectacles everything seemed so much simpler. Soccer strikers wouldn’t fall to the ground unless Hunter had broken both their legs, drivers didn’t have radios to whinge that a rival had pushed them off the track and demand the authorities take action, they would have to take them out at the next chicane and then have a proper fight . . . well as much as you can wearing a helmet and gloves, Piquet Sr. style.
With such a tainted view, things just don’t seem the same. Snooker’s wild man Alex Higgins, jokers Ray Reardon and Dennis Taylor, flamboyant playboy Kirk Stevens and lager swilling Bill Werbeniuk were replaced by the self named Steve “Interesting” Davies and the rather dour Stephen Hendry. The characters were lost.
Of course it isn’t the case. Yes, sportsmen have got a lot fitter and the likelihood of an F1 driver “preparing” for a race in the style of Hunt are a thing of the past but we still have our characters in sport. Maybe Rino “The Snarling Dog” Gattuso is the modern day Hunter? Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski seem intent on re-enacting Piquet & Salazar’s antics using their cars pretty much every race.
However, there is only so much room for such characters and a field full of Edwards and Keselowskis would be an entertaining though rather short race.
If we think soccer players didn’t dive in the seventies we would be kidding ourselves. Hunt’s ’76 championship saw as much activity in the court room as the race track and Higgins cried like a baby when he won the snooker championship, enough to make Ruebens Barrichello look positively macho on the top step of the podium. So perhaps things haven’t changed so much after all.
Controversial images exist in most sports and it draws the crowds and creates talking points. Without them the entertainment factor can become sterile. Sports seem to have a natural process for managing the numbers of “tough guys”. Such a reputation easily sets a player up for a fall, remaining at the top of the tree needs the mental capability and talent to achieve it, so few succeed.
Every year a bunch of junior formulae drivers with the self belief of Senna come unstuck with a string of aggressive DNFs. Alienating those around you can easily bite you back later. It may work when you are at the very top, everyone else needs some allies.
The term “Internet Racing” immediately sets off some alarm bells as “Internet” and “Tough Guy” often sit side by side in the same sentence! Asserting oneself on the Internet tends to be the norm rather than an exception as any typical internet forum is in comparison to spoken communication.
The concept of a field of wanabee Sennas and Schumachers or Edwards and Keselowskis all looking to assert themselves on track so as not to be “messed with” simply isn’t going to work as every race will be marred with aggressive moves and paybacks for the previous encounter.
To be frank, any sim racer who thinks he will get extra room thanks to a reputation as being tough is going to find his alter ego in the next car he tries to pass or block.
Controversial characters in sports survive thanks to the media and their ability to retain the support of their teams and bosses with their performance but above all by being exceptionally good at what they do. Some succeed and we as spectators either love them or hate them.
Whereas Internet tough guys can be found in basements worldwide, secure in the knowledge their true identities will never be revealed. It isn’t quite the same…