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Racing to better turf

By |  October 1, 2020 0 Comments
Alan FitzGerald

Alan FitzGerald (Photo: Fernando Gaglianese)

Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman is not a household name, but anyone who knows anything about cars will instantly recognize Colin Chapman as one of the most formidable automotive engineers of all time and the founder of Lotus Cars. At its peak, the little British car company won its class at LeMans, seven Formula 1 championships, the Indy 500 and the World Rally Championship — a feat that no other manufacturer has accomplished. The road cars also weren’t too shabby, with the Esprit starring as 007’s automotive eye candy in two Bond movies.

Chapman was very successful right up to his untimely death in 1982. At the time, his name was mired in controversy due to his dealings with John DeLorean and DeLorean Motor Cars. Chapman was annoyed the American received U.K. government funds for his car company, which Chapman couldn’t secure for his British company. Lotus ended up engineering the DeLorean and Chapman allegedly siphoned off a lot of government cash through a shell company with DeLorean. If nothing else, his story (and DeLorean’s) are fascinating and make for an interesting read or watch — depending on your pastime of choice.

Chapman revolutionized motor sport. Much of what is now the standard to build a race car comes from his innovations, along with other ideas that are taken for granted today, like sponsorships on the cars. He looked at how to build a car differently from everyone else, and when his cars started winning, it upset the establishment, including one Mr. Ferrari. Chapman’s underlying mantra was simplify and then add lightness. While it has never been proven that he actually stated those words, it sums up his philosophy: Make the car as light as possible and just reliable enough to win the race. His cars were notoriously fast but fragile, but that didn’t matter provided it broke down after it crossed the finish line when its job was done.

You can make a car faster by adding a bigger engine — which adds weight. Then you need bigger brakes — which adds weight. Then you need bigger wheels to cover the brakes — which adds weight. The net gains are not great as you keep adding weight, which negates the power increase. Chapman’s philosophy was the opposite. Take away weight and the objectives are reversed … smaller engine equals less weight. You get the added benefit of a smaller, lighter car, which is more nimble.

So, what does any of that have to do with turf? For a number of years, I have wondered if there is a Chapman way to grow grass. I can’t stop thinking that in the ’90s, when plant growth regulator (PGR) usage became commonplace, it was like adding the big engine to go faster. Everyone jumped on board as the PGRs helped speed up greens by retarding growth. However, the turf is still fertilized for plant health. This fattens the plant, necessitating more topdressing, verticutting, etc. With the turf not growing as much, it is more difficult to incorporate topdressing into the surface, which initiated the switch to light frequent topdressings. All of this increases the need to pull cores to manage the organic matter being produced. So, by attempting to do less, did we create more work?

COVID-19 has changed the world, limiting our resources, how we work and how we approach our jobs. The new normal has us looking at new ways to achieve the same goals with less. Maybe this is the time to be like Chapman and take a fresh look at what we are doing. Maybe stripping some things back is actually the way forward.

Then again, we want healthy turf that continues to survive once it crosses the line, so maybe we’re there already, and there’s nothing to change … but it’s fuel for thought.



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