Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Games: Drive Fast and Turn to the Left

Sports seem to have internal hierarchies. The World Cup is more important than any other football tournament and some football leagues are more prestigious than others. Within every sport there is this hierarchy. Sometimes it's based on the amount of money the league has, the glory to be found, the attention paid by the public, or by some other almost inexplicable biases.

The world of motor sports has a larger internal hierarchy than most sports. After all everything from motocross to formula one is covered under that rather large umbrella term. Within this huge umbrella there certainly is an informal hierarchy in place. The ranking of importance is different around the world. For example most of the world looks down on NASCAR with some disdain. The reason seems simple. Just look at this video news piece from The Onion.

That's what it looks like. A bunch of cars driving around a circular (sorry... oval) track just going as fast as they can until someone wins.  Like many things that seem simple it isn't as simple as it appears.

For one thing there is the physics of drafting. The car in the front of a long line is plowing through the air for the cars behind him but he's not doing all the work. A train of cars running around the track is faster than any one car on its own. The car at the front of the line may be pushing through the air but the disturbed air at the end of the train is slowing down a different car. They split the work. 

If a line of cars is faster than any single car then you have to travel in packs to be efficient and fast. So how do you move up the line? How do you pass? You convince others to pass with you. If you pull out into clear air without help you'll just slow down and go to the back of the line. So to get ahead you need help. Drivers need to cooperate. All while going over 100 miles an hour just inches from each other. 

What's amazing is that some drivers can win consistently. Do you help a driver with a winning record because he's more likely to win or do you punish a winning driver by not helping him because he's already won? How do you get people from other teams and driving for other owners to help you?

Some of the answers and background are in Social Science at 190 MPH on NASCAR's Biggest Superspeedways from First Monday

Maybe NASCAR deserves a bit more respect. It's a multi-person mind game while driving inches from each other. Makes me want to sit down and watch the gamesmanship on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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