Recently, I took Rose Fairbanks to a NASCAR race. We were in Sparta, Kentucky for the Quaker State 500 Sprint Cup Series event. We ate lunch with the inestimable Sharon Lathan before heading to the track…that was great! 🙂
As you may recall, I am a huge NASCAR fan. This was the first race I was able to attend since September of 2013, when my brother, sister-in-law, and I did a bus trip to the Dover race. Rose, when she moved to a city only three hours’ drive from me, offered to go with me to one, and since her husband could be transferred away again before next season, I jumped on it this year.
How does this relate to Jane Austen? Well, there are several hundred horses (so to speak) under the hood of each of those race cars. I got to thinking about the difference between racing these kind of horses and how people raced horses in the Regency period. Did they feel the same thrill at the start of a race as I do when forty engines fire up all at once? Did they get excited when the horses ran past on the front stretch, like I do? Better yet, can they feel the vibrations of the cars passing while they are in the ladies’ room sitting on the potty? Oh, oops…I guess not. blush At any rate, I decided to compare the racing experience then to mine now.
One of the first things I learned in my research was that the Ascot was established by Queen Anne in 1711 on land purchased specifically for horse racing. The Prince Regent made the four-day race a very fashionable event in about 1825, after he became king. He built a stand for himself and his guests to use to watch the races that is still used (and hard to get into). And, even though a queen established this formal race, most of the time, ladies did not attend the races in the Regency period…only if it was a special event, like (you guessed it) the Ascot.
NASCAR was started as a race on the beach in Daytona, Florida, where the sport’s main offices are still located. The first race was in 1948, and a decade later, Daytona Speedway was built. Originally, drivers drove stock vehicles, which means they drove cars that people drove on the street. Nowadays, they have specialized vehicles.
I equate the Daytona 500 to the Ascot. It’s a huge event, and draws folks from all over, including U. S. presidents and first ladies. However, at no NASCAR event does anyone wear formal attire as they did and still do at Ascot. Hats, though, are highly recommended.
Of course, not every race in Regency England was held at Ascot, and not all were formal affairs. Other tracks included Epsom, Newmarket, Goodwood, and others. Often, small races would be held in local towns during the assizes. I think attendees at those races would look more like today’s race fans…dressed informally.
Where did racegoers sit? Well, during the Regency, they generally did not. They stood at the rail. A Cambridge student who attended a race in 1816 wrote of the huge crowd, so I’d imagine most attendees could not actually see the race. Today, at NASCAR races, there are still huge crowds, but with grandstands and private/corporate boxes, everyone who attends can see the action…unless they are stuck in line at the concession stand or in the bathroom.
My research did not reveal details about pounding hearts and excitement from anything other than won or lost bets during horse races in the Regency, but I like to think that for someone back then, it was an exciting sport.
Oh, by the way…Rose is now a NASCAR convert. 😉
(Note: Clicking on the Regency pictures in the post will take you to the site I found them on.)