by Mike Kimel
The Efficient Racing Hypothesis
Professor Sporkweather Mo of Fridgewater University has famously postulated that a driver cannot consistently achieve better than average finishes on a recklessness-adjusted basis, provided that all drivers have the same information on track and weather conditions at the start of a race.
Using decades of data on drivers who made their living racing vehicles, Professor Mo has shown that even professional drivers are unlikely to finish with a time that beats the race average during any given race. Once survivorship bias is accounted for by including those drivers unlucky enough to only have raced only a few times (due to being cut from their respective teams, injury or death) results look even worse. The belief that many racing aficionados have that any skill is involved is false, and the fact that a few drivers seem to perennially come in at the top of the ranking tables is merely a function of randomness.
This dirty little secret is even acknowledged by professional drivers themselves. Most drivers will readily explain a poor finish by pointing to bad luck. More damning, the third time he was asked about the Efficient Race Car Driver hypothesis, Salonfute Torta, winner of three consecutive Champion’s League gold laurels admitted, “Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say” before running off to avoid having to answer more probing questions.
Professor Mo’s findings have serious implications. Because drivers are efficient, any time any driver develops a racing technique that works, it will be imitated until its effect disappears. Furthermore, vehicle designers behave the same way. While they work hard to develop newer and better race cars, any improvements will be quickly imitated.
“The result is that a member of the public wishing to wager on car races cannot do better over time than placing his or her money on an index of all racers,” Professor Mo expounded, “Betting on one of the supposed ‘good racers’ based on their previous performance is something only a fool would do.”
There are, of course, the occasional detractors to Professor Mo’s Efficient Racing Hypothesis.
Pilchard McFee of Sailfish University questions whether driver performance is consistent with the Efficient Racing Hypothesis.
“All else being equal, the best drivers tend to be the ones who put in the longest hours practicing and who have the fastest reflexes. It’s actually quite simple,” McFee has stated.
“Balderdash,” was Professor Mo’s response.
Recently, a challenge has come from another direction. Professor Snidecor Flash, Dean of Cottonberry College, claims that “there are many examples of predictability that deviate from efficiency in race outcomes. For example, while drivers race around the world, they tend to do better in races run in their home country. A great example of that effect is Spads McKeegle, who never placed in the top five in a single race during his five year career outside his native Willand, yet won all three times the circuit was run in his home country. Drivers are also more likely to perform well on dates that are significant for them, such as their birthdays, or when a loved one is on his or her deathbed.”
Professor Mo dismisses this as a small and trivial effect.
But does this mean it is impossible to make money gambling on racing? Not according to Professor Mo.
“While it is impossible to pick a race’s winners, or even how well any given driver will do in any given race with any degree of confidence based on their past winning performance, on average, a driver’s performance will be average. However, the more reckless drivers can be expected to do extremely well when they are lucky, and extremely poorly when they are not lucky. Since a bet on a driver who doesn’t place at the top pays the same whether the driver comes in fourth or last, a winning strategy is to simply bet on the most reckless drivers. In other words, the expected payoff of a wager is not zero, but rather rises with the recklessness of the driver.”