Ethnographic Research Project Essay

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The subject of the Ethnographic Research project is Fall-Line Motorsports, a full service participant in the motorsports industry. Located in Chicagos northern suburbs, the firm specializes in racing, servicing and modifying street and professional high performance vehicles such as BMWs, Porsches, Audis, Mercedes-Benz, Corvettes, and other high end transportation. (Fall-Line Motorsports, 2006)

In the form of ethnographic research, Fall-Line Motorsports, is subjected to focus on the sociology of meaning through close field observation of sociocultural phenomena. Typically, observing the motorsport community (not necessarily geographic, but within the work and limited leisure environment).  Selection of informants or participants who are known to have an overview of the activities of the community and requesting such informants are asked to identify other informants representative of the community. (Ethnographic Research, 2006)

Several informants/participants are interviewed multiple times within the work environment.  The purpose is to use information from previous informants/participants to elicit clarification and deeper responses upon re-interview.   The intent of this process is to uncover common cultural understandings related to the environment under study.   It should be noted that study utilizes the approach from the point of view of art, i.e. marketing, symbols, images and cultural preservation, i.e. behavior, customs and norms, as a descriptive rather than analytic endeavor. (Ethnographic Research, 2006) cultural immersion


Aspects of motorsports has had long been considered exclusively European in nature, most notably sports cars and grand prix motor racing, began to achieve a level of acceptance that would make them important elements of the American automobile culture in the years to come. (Inge, 1989, p. 110)

One of the most noticeable practices in the shop environment was the constant human activity.  The machine and tools were merely instruments that served as extensions of the men working around them.  The level of concentration was amazingly intense.  Empirical analysis yielded high productive output, efficiently, effective craftsmanship only second to the obvious dedication and resourcefulness.   It was difficult to imagine that any facility of the same size could match or possible exceed the results of Fall-line Motorsports, particularly in the motorcar racing industry.


Broadly-Defined Cultural Groupings

Motorsport racing is a sport of addiction. Once you experience it firsthand, you feel compelled to keep following it. In many cases, you quickly identify with a driver, his sponsor, or the make of car he drives. You watch races on television, you scan the newspaper for articles or photographs, you see people on the street wearing a NASCAR T-shirt or cap, you notice numbered decals on the back windows of cars and trucks, you start to recognize (and buy) products based on which team they sponsor.  A cultural reading of NASCARs evolution shows that stock car racing has become part of our national consciousness, both accepted and recognized by corporate America and the media. (Bodine et al. 1997, p. 3)

Since the very first visit to Fall-line Motorsports, I became completely enthralled with the motorsport business.  I saved and pulled together every nickel and dime I could muster in order to purchase the latest and best technology they had to offer. At that time, my single aspiration in high school was to have the fastest car on campus, and with their help, I achieved my goal.  Anecdotal analysis of American culture represents motorsports racing as an interesting phenomenon connected to our romanticism of the old American West. Stock car racing is more than a sport; it represents an important element of this nations culture and heritage.

It is a sport with ties to the rebellious actions of post-Revolutionary frontiersmen. This is an activity with deep roots, the lines that connect the America of today with the America of yesterday.

Breaking NASCARs ties to its traditional Southern identification might be enough to get a culturally and ethnically-diverse audience involved in the sport.  Opening new Winston Cup markets”especially in large urban areas within reach of new facilities, like the California Speedway near Los Angeles and Quad-Cities International Raceway Park near Chicago”might be the catalyst to attract minorities as fans and participants. (Bodine et al. 1997, p. 116)

ethnographic method involve gaining informants

Gathering Of Data In The Form Of Observation

One particular afternoon presented the opportunity to develop the informant relationship.  I went down to Fall-line Motorsports to purchase and have installed a cold air intake.  The installation took approximately four hours. Upon completion, I paid my bill on a job well done and left.  Like any new device, I felt a real world test was warranted.  I found a major open through fare, position the car in empty, place the shift into first gear and press the accelerator down to the floor.

In an instant the bolts to the sub frame ripped off and the differential fell out. Clearly, the only option was to return the Fall-line Motorsports.  Upon my return, the car was completely incapacitated.  Right then, JP, the chief engineer wasnt able to repair immediately.  However, he drove me home which was quite a distance from the shop.  Ironically, the accident and the ride home provided me the opportunity to talk with JP at length about the business, the industry, and the people of motorsports. Hence, my informant relationship was established.

During the conversation, even though motorsports has southern origin attached to it, it was discovered that one of the first northern drivers to find success as a NASCAR Grand National competitor was Fred Lorenzen, who was raised in the town of Elmhurst, Illinois, not far from Chicago. Lorenzen became familiar with NASCAR racing while camping out with friends in his parents backyard. (Bodine et al. 1997, p. 67)


Narrowly-Defined Cultural Groupings

Local spectators consume the regional sport commodity over a period of time, with different degrees of intensity of consumption. Consequently some races are enormously more important than others, with different meanings to different viewers or fans depending on their geographical location.  Thus the standardization of the time length of games and events, and the calendarisation of sport goes hand in hand with its commoditization. Forster, 2004, p.4)

So much as the study goes, first hand participation is essential, unlike a restaurant guides do not offer the kind of ethnographic information we might wish to have on American food ways, but as ephemeral publications that are part of as well as a commentary on popular cultural behavior, they have much to offer the student of American food ways. (Inge, 1989, p. 488)  Also associated within the confines of this world is the mechanic.  Steve is one of the mechanics and a true fan of the sport. He typifies the motorsport fan, family man, calm , Midwestern civility and calmness that carries the day.

The group is socially dynamic. It is a sport that thrills and draws by the tens of millions to speedways and television sets each year, yet we have never considered what the sport means to us as a country, as a community of Americans. Community plays a large part in the sport of stock car racing. The sport itself is a community, one that travels to race tracks all over the country each week. As is the case with transitory social groups, the NASCAR Winston Cup participants look to each other for solidarity. The drivers, mechanics, officials, media people, and families of NASCAR move about the nation as a community with its own rules, ethics, and etiquette. (Bodine et al. 1997, p. 10)

  The deepest layer inside the motorsport subject is the driver.  One overwriting commonality that stands as an attribute to all who ride in the beast is the rituals practiced by the drivers.

Whether it involves the silent act of prayer or wearing certain article of clothing in a particular fashion, the practice is uniform and convincing.  It even sometimes involves the people related to the drivers. Before a driver embarks into a race there are a series of different rituals that are performed. Mark Boden, 45 years old owner and operator of Fall-Line Motorsports and a driver at Fall-line motorsports, says goodbye to his wife and children before he goes into a race.

He systematically walks over to the car to check and recheck the machine as to let his family know of his confidence.  With assurance, he says a prayer and is prepared to race. When I go off I tell who ever Im with Ill see you in a little bit or Ill be back. I walk over to my car and check my tire pressure, get my racing suit on, put my helmet on, and drive to the line. As Im driving I start to loose my breath, but by the end of the first lap I am back to normal, say Mark.

Emic perspective

Cultural Perception

The general competitive balance result remains unchanged. Underlying the argument is a set of assumptions concerning the behavior of motorsports with respect to the quality of games (higher uncertainty of outcome leads to higher quality of games). In this scenario, drivers attract fans by winning.

JP, head engineer at the firm epitomizes this argument. He is required by the demanding world of motorsports competition to know and understands every aspect of the BMW M3 models in addition to every other car he works on.  Within his challenging environment, he serves as a critical source of reference for the mechanics and other engineers. Miraculously JP has been able to find solutions when others have failed.  It seems he is able to answer any question posed to him.

American racing fans, NASCAR is autoracing, and the on-track exploits of its heroesboth names from the past such as David Pearson, Daryl Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty, and names of the present such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.have, in many quarters, attained a status bordering on folklore. (Clark et al, 2004)  JP understands that the fan is comparing his work, his results with the major competitors. With the shadow of the legends looking over his should, JP designs various parts that will enhance the cars performance if other parts arent able to meet Fall-Lines standards.

Etic perspective

Non-Members (Outsiders) Perceive

African American ownership in sports has been a long sought after goal. Many have tried and only a few have succeeded in the multibillion-dollar arenas of professional football, baseball and basketball. Yet, look a little lower on the radar screen and youll see another sport has attracted the attention of a pair of former athletes in an arena not generally frequented by African Americansprofessional auto racing. Washington Erring Motorsports, which recently completed its second year on the NASCAB circuit, is being touted as NASCARs first minority-owned race team in over 25 years. (Smith, 2000, p. 28)


Material Artifact Of A Culture, Such As Art, Clothing, Or Even Technology

The sport, with its noise, dirt, powerful cars, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, became a symbol of the southern way of living. As with Daniels analysis, Johnsons depiction of stock-car racing anchors the activitys origins in deadly speed contests among southern moonshiners and federal revenue officers in the 1930s and 1940s. When not outrunning the law, moonshiners participated in informal races between themselves and others interested in automobiles. (Hall, 2002, p. 629)

For motorsports, obvious merchandise opportunities would include t-shirts, hats, and model cars. For landscapes it might be travel packages or hiking gear. Corporate customers might be interested in software, design services or office supplies. Unique content on Artemis Imagess website could be used to draw traffic to other companies sites. Chris and her team planned to license the content on an annual basis to these sites, creating reach and revenues for Artemis Images. (Bell, 2003, p.173)  At work, Steve and Mark only wear a Fall-Line t-shirt and jeans.  Clearly branding themselves where ever and when ever they can.

National and international sporting events attract millions of fans to the communities that host the events.  Unlike the limited seasons and markets in baseball, basketball, and football, motorsports facilities play host to events throughout most of each year. Major events are held almost weekly throughout the year in the United States, Europe, and other areas of the world. Motorsports is truly international in scope and stature, and racing attracts millions of fans to areas widely recognized for their involvement in the sport. (Gnuschke, 2004, p. 2)

Cultural patterning

Relate Symbols Across Varied Forms Of Behavior And In Varied Contexts

Budweiser, Burger King, Cellular South, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Comp Cams, Dominos Pizza, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz Rental Equipment, Hilton Properties, Ikon Office Solutions, Kroger, Ledbetter Meats, Millington Telephone Company and the list goes on¦obviously; the list of participating corporate sponsors and involved business partners will increase over the racing season. Some examples of the global importance of motorsports include the following excerpts and highlights of studies of motorsports events in the United States and around the world. (Gnuschke, 2004, p. 2)

Tacit knowledge

Deeply-Embedded Cultural Beliefs

It all stated with a simple model, ¦the recipe for a classic American hot rod is simple. First you find the smallest, lightest chassis available. Then you add one big American V-8 engine and beefed-up driveline. For good measure, you modify that V-8 to produce even more horsepower.   It all started in the 1930s when ingenious American youths (now our grandfathers and fathers) figured out that the new Ford V-8 engine would fit in the smaller and lighter Ford Model A. (Anson, 1996, p.14)

In essence, professional motorsports is in the business of entertainment. Instead of artists, you have athletes, which in the case of motorsports are race drivers. The stage and the arena is a racetrack.  As a business, the primary motive of any motorsports series is profit. So you need to keep spectators happy which in turn keeps sponsors happy. Also up there in the need-to-keep-happy list are the stars of the show themselves. Because they are the ones whom spectators come to spectate. (Manila Bulletin, 2005)

Reference(s) Ethnographic Research Retrieved 12.06.06 Fall-Line MotorSports Retrieved 12.06.06

Brett Bodine, Mark D. Howell, 1997, From Moonshine to Madison Avenue: A Cultural History of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Publisher: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Place of Publication: Bowling Green, OH. Page Number: 3, 67, 10, 116

John Forster, Nigel K. Ll. Pope, 2004,  The Political Economy of Global Sporting Organisations. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: New York. Page Number: 4

John M. Clark, T. Bettina Cornwell, Stephen W. Pruitt, 2004, The NASCAR Phenomenon: Auto Racing Sponsorships and Shareholder Wealth. Journal Title: Journal of Advertising Research. Volume: 44. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2004. Page Number: 281+

Eric L. Smith, March 2000, Racing for Dollars. Magazine Title: Black Enterprise. Volume: 30. Issue: 8. Page Number: 28. COPYRIGHT 2000 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

Randal L. Hall, 2002, Before NASCAR: The Corporate and Civic Promotion of Automobile Racing in the American South, 1903-1927. Journal Title: Journal of Southern History. Volume: 68. Issue: 3. Page Number: 629+.

Joseph R. Bell, Joan Winn, 2003, Artemis Images: Providing Content in the Digital Age. Contributors: Journal Title: Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice. Volume: 28. Issue: 2. Page Number: 173+. COPYRIGHT 2003 Baylor University;

John E. Gnuschke, Fall 2004, Economic Impact of the Memphis Motorsports Park. Magazine Title: Business Perspectives. Volume: 16. Issue: 3. Page Number: 2+.

Mike Anson, 1996, American Tradition of Hot Rodding Lives, Extending to Miatas. Newspaper Title: The Washington Times. Page Number: 14. COPYRIGHT 1996 News World Communications, Inc

Manila Bulletin, July 5, 2005,  When Sport Gets in the Way of Entertainment. Page Number: NA. COPYRIGHT 2005 Manila Bulletin Publishing

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