IN THE US in the 1960s, professional ten-pin bowlers earned, on average, double what professional footballers did. In 1963, America’s top ranked ten-pin bowler Harry Smith was paid more than baseball MVP Sandy Koufax and NFL MVP Y.A. Tittle... combined. In 1964, ten-pin legend Don Carter signed an endorsement deal with ball maker Ebonite for $1 million – about $8 million today, adjusted for inflation – which was 200 times what Arnold Palmer made from his endorsement deal with golf outfit Wilson. Bowling in America was big business.
Then the bubble burst. And now big money in bowling is when a kids’ party orders 20 hot dogs at once.
So the news that Lewis Hamilton will be paid eleventy million for the next couple of seasons in no way proves that the future of F1 is golden. Years from now, Hamilton and co will be relegated to brain teasers at pub trivia nights. Even Hamilton knows F1 is on a slippery slope (not literally, that would actually make it more interesting at this point) – pushing for a two-year contract instead of three: “I personally wanted to do two. We were talking about doing three, but ... it didn’t make sense for me to commit into the unknown.” Sure, because he wouldn’t want to find himself caught out with nothing but a hundred million dollars to fall back on.
You already know motorsport is in decline – beyond the uncertain future of F1, NASCAR is haemorrhaging viewers faster than its viewers are haemorrhaging liver cells, and in Australia we seem to be on a steady decline from V8 Supercars to Supercars to Cars to No Cars to Track Development Application.
Experts and pundits have all sort of theories as to the causes – it’s the TV rights, it’s the competition with other sports, it’s the safer, aka less exciting nature of racing. But the real reason? It’s that toddlers are annoying. They are. God love them, the adorable little bundles of joy, they are the future of our planet and the apples of all our eyes.
But lord are they annoying. And exhausting. Unless you exhaust them first, wear them out and send them into an afternoon coma to at least give you time to down a couple of stiff drinks and stiffen the sinew for when the irritating little treasures wake up again.
So parents have to enrol their tots in little gymnastics or little soccer or little athletics or little whatever, to tire the little buggers out.
The youngest age kids can start competing in karting in Australia is seven. Seven! They’re practically adults by then! They’re old enough that you can leave them at home alone, knowing that if someone tries to break in, your karting-age child will be able to defend the house using blowtorches and tarantulas. By the time children are old enough to start karting, they’re either already enmeshed in another sport, or else they’re little butterballs sinking deep into the couch cushions playing MarioKart instead, and the touch of sunlight on their skin causes them to shrivel up and smoke like Nosferatu.
Parents can’t wait till their kids are seven to get them into sports. Parents need activities to exhaust their kids when those kids are at peak-annoyance – so we need to be able to get kids started in motorsport sooner. The younger the better. What could go wrong?
And anyway, sending your kids into karting only puts them on track to become Formula One drivers, and by the time they’re old enough to compete in F1 (say, 11? 12? How old is Max Verstappen again?), who knows if that’ll even be a thing any more.
We need racing for kids. Quarter midget racing is clearly awesome – quarter midgets being the junior level of speedway, not the military version of a house elf; it’s little kids racing one-quarter-size scale versions of open-wheel midget racers. Outstanding – but it only exists in two states, Queensland and Victoria.
What we really need in Australia is to reignite the passion for Supercars – and taking the concept from quarter midgets, what we need is to build a quarter-size Mount Panorama, and put kids in quarter-size touring cars, doing a quarter the speed – so, say 75km/h – down a quarter-length Conrod Straight. While a paddock full of four-year-olds set fire to quarter-size Portaloos. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?