If you examine the incredible growth in participation and popularity of historic racing over the past couple of decades, one of the biggest contributing factors to this success story has to be the sport’s accessibility. Historic racing is, without doubt, one of the most accessible forms of motorsport in the world. Anyone can do it, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a trust fund to get started. I’ve known a number of people who have gotten their start in this sport for a less-than-$10,000 total investment. And when you boil it all down, one of the most significant reasons why it has become so accessible is due to the sport’s exemplary safety record.
Fortunately, over its lifetime in the United States, historic racing has had very few “catastrophic losses,” to use impersonal insurance terminology. As a result, clubs around the country are able to put on affordable events because they can insure those events through what’s known as the VMC policy. For those not familiar, the VMC policy is a large umbrella insurance policy through which all VMC (Vintage Motorsport Council) member clubs can purchase event liability insurance. Because historic racing—separate and distinct from SCCA and professional series— has had such a low loss record (read: few claims), VMC member clubs (essentially every historic race club in the country) are able to insure their events for a fraction of the cost that other forms of motorsport pay. In some cases we’re talking about an order of magnitude difference in cost per event. In many respects, this insurance policy is our most precious resource, because without it, we could be looking at entry fees over $1,000 to cover what would be the heavy burden of insurance. With that in mind, I sometimes worry that we’ve come to take this low-cost insurance for granted.
In recent years more and more clubs have been adding ancillary events to their weekend programs, one popular event being the “lunch-time drive around” or track tour. This is where anyone with a $20 bill burning a hole in their pocket can take his or her street car out on the track for a few “low-speed” laps. However, as we’ve all likely witnessed, these tours sometimes digress to nothing more than an open lapping session, with drivers slowing down to open up a large expanse of track and then barreling along to catch the car in front of them. While these sessions are always a crowd favorite—it’s nice to be able to take family and friends out to see what the track looks like from “your” perspective—it also poses a terrible risk, because the drivers are, for the most part, untrained and the cars have not been safety inspected. This point was recently driven home with tragic consequences when two gentlemen lost control of their convertible street car during one of these sessions, resulting in it rolling over and killing both of them.
In addition to the obvious potential consequences of this accident to the VMC member club that held this event, this tragedy also poses a much broader threat to all clubs that count on the VMC insurance policy for their event insurance. I spoke with one insurance expert, a prominent expert in the motorsport insurance field, who told me that accidents like this one could have grave consequences. “The underwriters look at everything that occurs in a race weekend, on track and off, and an incident like this could potentially result in them either significantly raising the premium or choosing not to underwrite the policy in the future. These types of non-racing activities seem like playing with fire to me.”
As sad as it is, we live in times where people will sue a fast-food chain because the coffee that they spilled on themselves was too hot! Living in a litigious society puts tremendous strain on organizations that sanction activities perceived as being “dangerous.” With increasing insurance fees and the ever-present specter of lawsuits hanging over our heads, is it any wonder that our race-sanctioning bodies have had to crack down on things like children riding bikes and playing in the paddock? But if we are going to take that as a threat to our ability to be affordably insured, shouldn’t we also be re-examining peripheral, non-core activities like lunch-time drive arounds as well? While I don’t want to infer that this is something that needs to be abolished, I do think it is time that we take a serious look at whether this is worth the risk or not. After all, what will become of the sport if it costs $2,500/weekend to enter a Formula Vee in a local club race?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.