This month's column will temporarily depart from its original format and shift not only subject matter but into a first-person conversation that includes notable perspectives from someone who is clearly at the leading edge of changes evolving (and that should evolve) in the global motorsports community. And least you forget, readers of this magazine fall into that category.
I first met Herb Fishel in 1967. He had been hand-picked by Zora Duntov to focus his young engineering skills on the design of Mark IV (big-block) engine components. In fairly rapid ascension, he moved into other "Product Performance" roles that saw him assume capacities that included coordinating the GM product development (and racing) efforts of such rivals as Smokey Yunick and Junior Johnson, simultaneously. That feat could be likened to making bedfellows of hard-nosed arch enemies, and he did it successfully. When the Buick V-6 program was budding, it was fertilized by Herb who by that time was heading Buick Division's high performance and motorsports efforts. He then moved back to Chevrolet Division to lead its similar motorsports charge, later to direct the motorsports efforts of all GM divisions. His record of GM-linked team and individual wins at virtually all levels of motorsports in the ensuing years will likely never be equaled. To list his accomplishments and accolades would consume this space.
Now retired from GM, he continues in the shadows of moving mountains in his time-honored roll of visionary, only this time he has stepped out of what might be called the traditional "box" and is addressing the global world of motorsports and its inevitable future. Each of us can benefit from his observations and predictions, if only we'll pay attention. To that end, we recently managed to capture some of his time and thoughts for the benefit of those who read this column. Pay very close attention.
How do you view the landscape on which motorsports is performing today?
"I think the overriding issue today is that you just can't ignore the realities of energy, environmental and economic issues, and the whole idea of sustainability. Of these, sustainability really amounts to social responsibility. We've come into an era of multi-dimensional challenges not unlike the automotive industry experienced in the past, first with safety and then with a fuel shortage in the early '70s. Right now, just about anything we talk about has global implications. And, quite frankly, this includes motorsports."
More specifically, how can you relate this to racing, possibly at the higher levels since this usually creates a trickle-down effect to other classes?
"Racing has gone through an incredible period of growth and popularity, at almost every level. It's difficult to think of any series that hasn't prospered during the last few decades. The entertainment aspect of racing really came about with television, back in the early '70s. Plus, that entertainment level was fueled by a significant growth in sponsorships. Of course, when tobacco could no longer be advertised on television and became popular on race cars, there's no doubt the exponential growth of major racing series events came as the result of tobacco money. This era of entertainment has continued to include modern times. During this period of evolution, it seems like all the components in the higher levels of racing became almost over-refined and branded. Examples could include manipulating races to provide close competition, race cars that hit the grid like pieces of porcelain and drivers who were labeled as super-stars."