Race space: The transformation of iconic motorsport circuits from public use to large technical system (1950 – 2010)

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Westin, Peter Gustav
Krige, John
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The 1950s marked the beginning of a key transformational period in automobility and the socio-technical realm of motorsports. However, the car was not at the heart of the narrative which was much more complex. In Post-War Europe, people began to drive for pleasure on weekends and holidays while in the US, this extant access was supplanted by the quest for more status-oriented and powerful cars. On both continents it was also the time when motorsporting activities became formally organized and regulated with the creation of the globally oriented Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA) in Paris, France and the American oriented North American Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) in Daytona Beach, Florida (US). This chronicle is a transnational examination of motorsport’s place in automotive technology and culture as well as of unique motorsport sites with physically shifting landscapes and tensions that cascaded across socio-cultural strains, technological innovation, and regulation. I locate this ambitious narrative at an intersection where several themes are fused together incorporating my interpretation of Thomas Hughes’ concept of large-technical systems in conjunction with Manuel Castells’ notion regarding highly technical nodes of a transnational business network, environ-mental complexity, easier mobility in Europe and America from proliferation of roadway networks, postwar consumption and increased “time budgets” coupled with technological enthusiasm, and coproduced hegemony instrumental to this evolution. Over time these would coalesce into a heterogenous network reliant upon multiple actors. According to Hughes’s model there are four phases: invention and development, interregional technology transfer, system growth, momentum. While not yet a transnational network in the first phase, motorsports grew to become inextricably intertwined globally. This growth also complicated the relationship between technology, regulation, and the environment. Further as people earned more (especially in Europe) they learned to be a consumer and with more free time they could take vacations and drive to races. Enthusiasts formed social networks and communities of DIY car clubs, fan clubs, clubs for specific automotive brands, amateur driving clubs, and Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA). Active participants who were initially hobbyists and mechanics transformed into professional drivers and engineers as they learned to apply scientific principles like fluid dynamics, and methods like modeling to designing very complex machines. These heterogenous networks incorporating what became large technical systems and their socio-cultural dynamics illustrate that the car was not central.
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