One of the true inside joys of watching auto racing comes from knowing just how fast the cars are whooping around out there, an inside joy because this information is unavailable to most outsiders (racetracks always seem to have public-address systems that nobody can understand over the roar of the engines).
Regular stopwatches are fine for timing most kinds of races but good ones are expensive and, further a stopwatch won't do much good at an auto race unless you carry a lap-conversion card to calculate miles per hour from elapsed seconds. This tends to keep you fully occupied and does not leave a hand free to hold a can of beer.
One bright solution for race fans seems to be the prototype Racer I wristwatch being introduced by Racing Professionals Merchandising (which abbreviates to RPM, and you cannot get any racier than that), a new organization that sells promotional packages to advertisers. The watch idea actually started out as a sort of premium gimmick to tie in with the organization's other merchandising campaigns, but it stirred such attention that it now may take off on a campaign all its own.
Racer I has all the elements of a great toy for grown-ups. It is a fat little creature, with a luminous dial for night racing and a snap-on outer ring, called a bezel, which is calibrated to the length of the track. Numbers run from 60 to 300. When a race car roars past you put down that can of beer for just a moment and adjust the No. 60 on the outer ring to match the sweep-second hand on the watch. That's it. Next time the car comes by a glance at the second hand and the bezel will tell instantly how fast the car is going.
The Racer I promotion is being handled by RPM's David Bentley, a racing enthusiast with a suitably automotive name. Bentley is working with official organizations, such as USAC, NASCAR, SCCA and FIA, to calibrate every major track in the world. Thus when going off to the races one just snaps on his Indy outer ring or his Le Mans bezel or whatever. The watch was designed to sell to the company's clients at $11, and the public can get it for the same price.
More diversified models are in the works, with such embellishments as stainless-steel cases and calendars, but the greatest charm of Racer I is that it is inexpensive. Response has been so lively that RPM will retail the watch itself, perhaps adding a portfolio of racing prints suitable for framing. Inquiries should be addressed to Bentley at the RPM division of D. L. Blair, 25 East 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10010.