The Academy Awards were last night, which reminded me of what a travesty it was that Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby never won an Oscar. It’s a damn shame, and emblematic of what’s wrong with this great nation.
At one point in the movie (I’m pretty sure, anyway) Ricky says: “I’m a winner! I can do what I want!” which is the theme of the entire movie. If you’re not first, you’re last. More expository dialog:
(Ricky’s sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, are talking smack to their grandfather at the dinner table.)
Chip: [to Ricky Bobby] Are you just going to let your sons talk to their grandfather like this?
Ricky Bobby: Hell yes I am! They are winners! That is how winners talk!
Carley Bobby: If we wanted two wussies, we would have named them Dr. Quinn and Medicine Woman!
Sunday in Target, a twenty-something woman ran into (not literally) a friend who was there with her young daughter. I overheard the 20-stomething mother mention that the daughter had a basketball game earlier in the day. Any guesses as to the FIRST thing out of the 20-something non-mom’s mouth? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
She said … “Did you win?” (I didn’t hear what the child said, but it was a "no.") And then the woman followed up with: “Well, did you play well?”
We got it backwards in America. “Did you play well” is the most important question, not “did you win.” But, hey, if you’re not first, you’re last here in the land of hyper competition.
All of this brings me (OMG finally!) to racing. It’s a weird sport. You gotta admit. It’s weird for a few reasons, first and foremost is the central and highly determinative role the machine plays in the whole deal. In football, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis … the technology (ball, helmets, bats, sticks, pucks, clubs, rackets) doesn’t play a MAJOR role at all. It’s a factor, but not to the point where every team spends millions of dollars to tweak up the racket so we can win. Yeah, there’s technology that gives you an edge, especially when it comes to training techniques, but it’s nowhere near the vast impact the car has on racing results.
Second, there’s only one winner out of 43 (ish) per race, so your odds of winning are long in racing. Whereas in many other team sports, it’s two teams playing, so your odds of winning are better. In fact, the odds of a stick-and-ball pro team going COMPLETELY winless in a season are remote. Over in racing, driver will go years between wins and it’s not seen as odd. Some even go their entire career without a major-league victory. Further: I don't believe an oh-fer-career record is necessarily that indicative of the driver's talents, again due to the centrality of the machine. Drop a winless driver in a top car and, SHAZAM, they can win.
Third, racing's nature makes random calamity part of the sport. Because there are crashes, you could get taken out of a race just by bad luck. I guess it would be like playing stick-and-ball sports with a dramatically enhanced chance of random, unanticipated injury every game. “I was playing well, but then I blew a hammy. DAMN. That’s the third time this year I had a great stick and was shooting the puck well only to blow a hammy.”
Non-mom: Did you win?
An innocent question, but still ... If winning is THEE criteria, then racing is a depressing field to get into, and I have an even bigger quandary as to why someone would want to participate. I’m no race car driver, but I suspect you have to find “victories” along the way, because you could very well go oh-fer your career and have it NOT be indicative of how good of a driver you are AND still have people judging you by the goose egg in the wins column. Low-funded team + great driver almost always = zero wins. Just a fact in racing.
Which seems to be lost on a lot of fans. (Which, OMG, brings us back to Ricky Bobby.) Because if you’re not first, you’re last. They are winners! That is how winners talk! otherwise you're a "wussie." Winning isn’t everything … oh wait, it actually is. Not only is winning everything, it’s a get out of jail free card (in the eyes of some, but by no means all) for acting like an asshole. Throw your team under the bus, scream at another driver, throw stuff, make fun of people, push photographers down, act like a prick/diva. Is the offender a winner? Yep. That’s just (driver name) being driver name!!! Love the fire!!! No? Petulant little BASTARD! Punk-ass no name!
Never has a movie captured the ethos of American sports zealots (and win-at-any-cost zealots in general) like Ricky Bobby.
Once again, put me down for the 5% minority position. I think bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless if the offender has won 192 races or zero. Being a winner does NOT make assholeish behavior OK. No dual standards. No cutting slack for "winners."
Here's what I believe (I swear to God): The most important thing is life is EFFORT, not results. It's what I told my youth soccer kids; it's what I tell my young adult children; it's what I tell myself, and it's what I'm telling you. EFFORT. Did you play well? Did you do your bes? That's reall all that matters. Winning? It's nice. It's fun. But what's more important? Effort or outcome?
In a prefect world, when I overhear conversations in Target, the FIRST question will be “did you play well?” rather than “did you win?” I keep hope alive.