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I would say that all depends on the target audience. I know folks that would look at the most awesome soccer/baseball/football photo and nod, say it's a nice shot and move on. Yet they see that photo of a car, motorcycle, drag car, drag boat, hydroplane, offshore powerboat...etc..not in a crash and the shot is a great one for the sport and they love it, buy it, put it on their wall.... Perspective. You love stick and ball sports, fantastic. But not everyone would agree that the non-crash motorsport image is not as compelling as any other sport shot.
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I think I'm going to side with Brad on this one. Something about the face, and particularly the eyes, engages human a deeply set emotive response. I'd guess that you've got something similar going on with the motosport photos that people croon over. Not that I'm trying to anthropomorphize things like the grill and headlights, but the shot that grips someone touches something deep inside. In the motorsport case I'd guess that has something to with a vaguely aspirational sense of what the view thinks the sport is all about, be it speed, power, grace, control, chaos. Everyone has their own quirks about what makes a great photo, but if you were going to play the numbers game then you would really want to try and have a face and preferably eyes in the shot -- think of the visor in some of stunning motorbike photos posted here, or in an open-wheeled car. Bottom line, you're looking for an emotional reaction from the viewer, which means known thine audience.