FRAMINGHAM (10/03/2003) - I'm a motor racing fan. Well, at least a fan of some types of motor racing. Dirt track, Figure 8 and the IRL do not do that much for me. But Formula 1, CART, Le Mans style endurance, Isle of Man TT and NASCAR racing get my attention during the season, and I get a touch of withdrawal during the winter when most racing is gone from the tube. I have found that the experience of being a motor racing fan has changed dramatically over the last few years as motor racing has embraced the Internet.
Most major racing series now can be followed in real time on the 'Net in a level of detail that rivals what the booth announcers have access to. Formula 1 and the American Le Mans Series have Web sites that provide auto-updating Web pages that show the position of every car, the gap to the car in front, lap speed and other details. NASCAR has the same sort of thing but you have to pay for it, and the service does not support Macs, so I do not use it.
A major result of these services for me is that I generally do not turn on the TV sound. I prefer to listen to KHYI (country music streamed over the Internet) instead. For some reason, most TV commentators have not figured out that TV is a visual medium and insist on describing what I'm already seeing, and they seem to feel that a second without babble is a second wasted (or maybe they are paid by the word). The Internet coverage also continues through the large number of increasingly dumb commercials. (I fail to understand how showing two to four times an hour that Dell Inc. hires imbeciles as interns is supposed to make me want to do business with them. For me it does the reverse. Why should I buy something from a company whose only visible employees are too stupid to turn on a light switch and so dishonest that they lie about why the light is off?)
Motor racing is not the only sport that has discovered the Internet. You now can get live scores and stats for seven of the top 10 most-hated sports. At least I've not seen Web sites that purport to provide live coverage of dog fighting, pro wrestling or bull fighting - although I suspect that there might be sites covering bull fighting in some countries.
I cannot predict what the general effect will be of this Internetization of sports. But I have a harder time working at the same time as a race is on the Internet than I did when it was just on the tube. I watch the action and the stats more closely on the Web and see the ads on the cars (of which there are many) more than I do with NASCAR, for example. NASCAR has made an error in charging (and using non-standard technology) on its site. The organization would attract more viewers if it enabled access to the basic stats for free and only charged for the fancy extras. Time will tell if the general model is open or closed.
Disclaimer: Harvard, to some, is a fancy extra, but I'm the one following F1, not the university.
Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.