There's a great clip I came across a while back, showing what happened when a tyre came off a car during a race:
It's funny in its own right, but it also amuses me that the camera was focussing on this tyre rolling down the track, and completely ignoring all the drivers. I think that says something about the relative entertainment value! Still, each to their own, and I'm sure other people would be bored rigid by some of the things I enjoy.
Anyway, tonight I went to Wimbledon Stadium to watch the stock cars (ambulance duty). It's the first time I've been there, and I noticed that I was the only person not wearing "greens", i.e. I was in my normal uniform (black trousers) rather than a green jumpsuit. I've heard that it can get quite messy, i.e. the cars throw up a lot of dirt/dust as they go round, but it was ok tonight (possibly because of the wet weather).
There were three types of races: V8, 2L, and bangers. V8 cars are a bit like go carts, and they have 8 pipes coming out of the engine into the exhaust. (There are some photos here.) I've been trained to extract people from cars, but it's a bit more tricky here, when the driver climbs in through the back window! (Another tricky question: what do you do if the car's upside down?) Anyway, this type of racing is quite lively, with lots of overtaking; I think it would be quite fun to take part in, but I still wasn't particularly interested in watching it. Apparently these cars have to drive around the track anti-clockwise, because they'd topple over if they went clockwise!
Next came the 2L cars, i.e. cars with a 2 litre engine. These are the same type of cars that you'd see driving around on a normal road, except that all the glass has been removed (no windows/mirrors/lights) and the doors have been welded together so people have to get in via the window holes (a la Dukes of Hazzard). Also, all the seats have been removed except for the driver's. This is obviously quite different from F1, but I like it; it reminds me of the old "Herbie" films. It also means that there's a pretty low barrier to entry, so people can take part as a hobby rather than needing millions of pounds. There were a few bumps in this, and some quite impressive sparks when a car went scraping along the (metal) ropes around the edge, but it's not intended to be a "contact" race.
Then there are the bangers. These are pretty much the same as the 2L cars, except that they're not quite in the same condition. In all of the races, the idea is that you have 15 laps, so it's "first past the post". However, in banger racing they specifically say that the first 3 laps are non contact; the implication is that anything goes after that. It's not a demolition derby, so the drivers aren't actually trying to smash up the other cars, but that's a perfectly valid technique if it helps them to win. As my colleague observed, this appealed to my demented sense of humour! It really was fun to watch, although I can see why they need an ambulance standing by.
One car in particular reminded me of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ("It's just a flesh wound!") After one collision, both back wheels were skewed so that the bottoms tilted away from the car; this left the rear of the car actually dragging on the road. I assumed that the driver would pull over to the middle (i.e. give up), but no - he kept going. A few minutes later, he came past again (on his next lap), and drove straight into another car, caving in his bonnet, and leaving the top of his car looking like an upside-down V. At this point, he was forced to stop, because his car wasn't going anywhere. I saw several cars going past with smoke pouring out of them, but it was only fire that paused a race. (The flames were on the ground, and went out by themselves.) Under normal circumstances, if I saw a road crash involving several cars piling up then I'd call for the police and the fire brigade as well as the ambulance service; however, in this environment the drivers took it all in stride.
What really impressed me about the whole thing was the sportsmanship involved. It's obviously competitive, but there's no malice involved, and at the end of each heat the cars that could still move pushed the ones that couldn't. (There were also tractors to help out, so that everyone got off the track ready for the next race.) So, all in all, a much better atmosphere than football matches, and I'm glad I went.