Why I hope Ron Howard's RUSH is a winner....
It's not easy to be a Formula 1 fan living in the United States. It's currently NASCAR country here with a smattering of dedicated IndyCar fans. In this country, Formula 1 seems, in many ways, almost relegated to those who remember its heyday at Watkins Glen, the small town in upstate New York that hosted the world every crisp and colorful October for 20 years from 1961 to 1980.
Like soccer (the world's football), Formula 1 motor racing is a sport that is wildly popular around the rest of the world but not so much here. It's difficult (but getting a bit easier) to find Formula 1 on television. For quite some time before 2012 there was no track dedicated to the sport in this country (now Circuit of the Americas exists in Austin, Texas and hosted its first U.S. Grand Prix in November of 2012). After the Glen, races had been tried at Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and other places, but nothing stuck. One hopes that Austin may help change that, at least for awhile.
The guru of Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone, seems to be open to deals then lay in wait for them to fall through, at least according to the popular motor sports press. A promised race in New Jersey, a street race planned against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, would do much for the sport in this country if held in that media mecca. However, the on-again, off-again stories keep coming, and one wonders if it will happen or not. Still, one recalls the same stories circulating in the lead-up to COTA, and that race eventually ran with much applause from both the drivers and the fans.
Popularity among the American public is moved collectively by many things, but certainly the entertainment industry and the media wield big influences in a country that is as large geographically and as diverse demographically as ours. A hit movie with a popular and award-winning director gets talked about for months before it opens, then gets talked about in reviews and talked about again after it is reviewed. The build-up to an opening includes people talking their way to a decision about whether or not to spend part of their paychecks on a night out at the cinema when they could view any number of other things that evening that they have already paid for with their various cable, Internet, and/or Netflix subscriptions.
A hit movie brings people out. People out share a collective experience they don't get at home in front of their big-screen TVs or computer screens. It's a 'happening' then, and one they go to work on Monday morning and talk about with their friends and colleagues. Multiply that effect in community by community, region by region, and state by state, and you get the idea. Word of mouth is probably the best way to market a movie -- or, one might argue, a sport -- to those who are unfamiliar with it.
So, my hopes are high for RUSH. I want it to be a hit for whatever reason it becomes popular (I don't care, e.g., if Chris Hemsworth brings people to the theater who have no interest in cars or racing and would not otherwise be there). Because then more of my fellow Americans will know what Formula 1 racing is -- that it is NOT NASCAR (for good or for bad, depending on how you feel about that series of motor sports) -- and that it has a history that is as fascinating and compelling as it is puzzling for the layperson who has never stepped foot inside a race car of any vintage or who has never put money down to watch a race live and in person.
Among many other factors, the documentary film, SENNA, contributed to cementing my own commitment to studying Formula 1, historic racing, and motor racing in general for my next book. There's just something more to this sport -- something deeper in the human experience that it expresses -- than one might first imagine. I hope RUSH helps raise awareness, excitement, and curiosity about the second-highest watched sport around the world (behind soccer) in this country. Selfishly, I hope it's a winner, if for no other reason, so that I don't have to begin every conversation about my work with a fellow American (even fellow Ph.D.s who study sports!) by explaining what Formula 1 racing is, and why I believe it's worth so much of my time, and is perhaps also deserving of their attention.
So, let's take a look at RUSH, America. I don't know yet if it will flip or flop. It's not a documentary, and it's not an art film, but if you feel any of the excitement, bewilderment, or pathos from the sport -- or curiosity about its history -- from watching the movie as I have so far from my studies, then perhaps you'll be rewarded with an experience that rushes past your expectations. And wouldn't that be, well, just plain cool?
I look forward to hearing your impressions if you do go see the movie, and I'll be sure to share mine, too!