Pop culture has greatly influenced the importance and standing of race cars.
And race cars have greatly influenced the nature of pop culture.
Since its inception by Karl Benz in 1885, the automobile has changed the way we live and think. We have altered landscapes, built roads and modified cities to accommodate the car. Travel, commuting, shopping and school runs have all become much easier and quicker.
The advancement of the automotive industry created new sectors and jobs; but it has also had negative effect, impacting the environment and causing more deaths through accidents.
Cars have become a mainstay of society; so has their place in pop culture. Whether it be for entertainment, sport, politics, television, music, books or gaming, the use and reliance on cars has solidified their significance in history.
Pop Culture: How Car Status Has Changed
Cars have always been symbols of status. In the early days of the automobile, only the most wealthy and well-to-do members of society would own cars. Not just for pleasure or travel: the car represented wealth, power, reputation and exclusivity.
That attitude still exists to a certain extent in the modern era. However, as time has moved on, the use of cars in pop culture has been synonymous with the growth in availability and ownership across all areas of civilization. Vehicles decreased in price and therefore increased in numbers. As a result, their representation in pop culture also changed.
Cars are now seen as symbols of revolution and evolution. That ranges from an epitome of glamour, money and cool to essential functionality for a modern family living in suburbia.
For most of the world, we see cars every day. While they were once a model of exclusivity, cars are now everywhere we look and in everything we consume. Their prominence in pop culture increased as they became an integral part of modern life.
With cars at the centre of civilisation, topics such as race cars and motorsport came to the fore. Race cars and motor racing provoke different feelings; they nurture different emotions. What do you feel when you watch motor racing? The thrill of live racing and unpredictability, a love and appreciation for technology, an attraction to car customisation.
Race Cars Become Mainstream
Through the decades, pop culture has morphed and grown as much as the automotive industry. It is a movement that changes with time, influenced by what is happening at the forefront of society. A collection of beliefs, practises and objects we deem prevalent at a certain time. And whatever is fashionable and cool is usually the epicentre of pop culture.
Fast cars – and race cars – are an interesting topic of car subculture. Attitudes surrounding race cars are different to ‘normal’, every-day car culture. Speed, risk, and racing are not associated with how we drive cars to and from work, or to and from the shops.
But their rise and acceptance in pop culture has had a huge effect on how current manufacturers approach selling cars. Think about the Fast and Furious franchise. Car customisation was cast into the (mainstream) limelight through box-office films glamorising street racing and vehicle modification. As a result, manufacturers adopted a selling strategy heavily based on personalisation: cars come with numerous options a consumer can pick and choose from at their preference.
The rise of drifting in Japanese car culture had a similar effect. Race cars and their looks became an important subdivision of car culture. Communities such as the Midnight Club formed as drifting and street-racing became more and more popular in Japan.
From Silver Screen to TV
Race cars and super cars have a long association with pop culture, most notably in films, television and music. They are often cast as a leading star: the Fast and Furious franchise, Aston Martin’s long association with James Bond, Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang in Bullitt, the Ferrari 208 GTB in Magnum PI and the Dodge Charger in Dukes of Hazzard. Ford v Ferrari won two Oscars. Racing-themed films, such as Senna and Rush, play heavily on nostalgia towards a bygone era of automotive history.
This influence stretches across multiple generations. Ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker last December, Porsche teamed up with Lucasfilm to design a spaceship that brought together the ‘DNA’ of both brands. Aston Martin recently relaunched continuation remakes of the DB5 used in Goldfinger. Both are aimed at completely different generations but are examples of car brands adopting pop culture as a way of marketing.
Then you have sports car and super car product placement on TV. Think Monica’s Porsche in hit U.S. sitcom Friends.
The emergence of race cars in pop culture helped breed television programs specifically aimed at motoring enthusiasts, such as Top Gear.
Music and Motorsport
The impact on music has been huge. How many songs over the past 60 years reference types of car? Literally thousands, across all types of genres. From Prince's Little Red Corvette to Outkast's Benz or Beamer and Johnny Cash's One Piece At A Time.
The use of super cars and race cars in music videos (again, product placement) is also staggering. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Mercedes, Porsche, Ford, Aston Martin have all featured in music videos from a variety of different artists over the years. Whether it be 50 Cent, Calvin Harris or Sheryl Crow - luxurious race and classic cars have been referenced in all corners of pop culture.
Pretty much every major motorsport type – from Formula 1 to drag racing – is broadcast live on television. Paint schemes and badges are instantly recognisable (such is the influence of consumerism), while cars are usually emblazoned in hundreds of sponsors associated with pop culture. Race car drivers, such as F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, are seen as role models both in person and online. With their followings, they can help instigate change.
Race Cars In Modern Pop Culture
The internet and boom of social media have also had a massive effect on race cars in pop culture. Photography app Instagram has a car community heavily intertwined with fashion, luxury and travel. Taking a ‘cool’ photo of a race car in a desirable location gets likes and hits.
Video websites such as YouTube house millions of hours of car-related content. From one-person reviews to archive footage of classic races and step-by-step guides of classic race car restoration, it is completely immersed in modern day pop culture.
Gaming and Sim Racing has become a big growth subculture of race cars and motorsport. Being able to race online against other people, using any race car on any racetrack in the world, builds communities of people with like-minded interests.
It’s not just ‘official’ racing games that propel race cars into pop culture, either. The hugely influential and iconic title Grand Theft Auto has its own street racing/vehicle modification subculture. Gamers can buy upgrades and street-race online, while all vehicles in the GTA series resemble real-life makes and models.
The Effect of Race Cars In Pop Culture
What does this all mean? Race cars and motorsport can be consumed in virtually evert medium of pop culture: books, print photography, radio, film, television, museums, gaming, the internet and social media.
They are accessible in every walk of modern life. It helps solidify communities and interactions between car and motorsport enthusiasts, as well as unifying people with common interests. Pop culture helps shape the future and how future generations consume race cars and motorsport. It educates both sides: consumers and those who provide the service.
As society changes, it’s important that race car culture and motorsport changes with it. Otherwise they risk being left behind, both economically and socially.