Editor's Note: The fifteenth and final season of the American Le Mans Series comes to an end with the Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta on Saturday, Oct. 19. Petit Le Mans will mark the end of an era in American sports car racing, with the unification of the ALMS and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship beginning in 2014. The Petit Le Mans will remain as the final race of the season on the new TUDOR Championship calendar. Coverage of the race on Oct. 19 begins on FOX Sports 2 from 11 a.m. - noon ET, including pre-race activities and the green flag at 11:30 a.m. for the 1,000-mile (394 laps)/10-hour time limit race. FOX Sports 2 resumes the broadcast from 2:30-6:30 p.m. FOX Sports 1 will continue live coverage from 6:30-8 p.m., before FOX Sports 2 picks up with the conclusion beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Live coverage of the entire event will be available on FOX Sports’ new mobile application, FOX Sports Go. FOX Sports 1 will also broadcast a three-hour highlight presentation from 4-7 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 20. Live streaming of qualifying on Friday, Oct. 18 will be available on ALMS.com beginning at 1:50 p.m. ET. ALMS.com will then offer a complete live stream of Saturday’s race to international audiences. Bob Varsha and Brian Till will share lap-by-lap coverage with Calvin Fish, Dorsey Schroeder, Johnny O’Connell and Justin Bell handling color commentary. Jamie Howe, Chris Neville and Kelli Stavast will report on pit road activities. For a FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2 channel finder, please visit: http://bit.ly/19ljbZ8. We're leaving Peter's column up for another week so it can continue to rattle around the racing world. He will return with a new "Fumes" column next week. - WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. As much as we talk about the "sport" of racing and try to convince non-racing people that it is, in fact, about competition, the challenge, the enduring quest, the heroic endeavor, etc., when it comes right down to it racing is about the money. To deny that fact is simply head-in-sand thinking that bears no resemblance to the real world and how it works. That was reaffirmed in a very interesting article in this past Sunday's Charlotte Observer by Rick Rothacker, in which he reveals that during the course of testimony in ongoing divorce contretemps involving Feliz Sabates and his wife Carolyn, the entire Grand-Am series was exposed for what it was all along: a play by the France family to control major league sports car racing in this country at all costs, even if they had to prop up the series by paying teams to compete.
Now, I took a lot of heat from certain quarters for basically writing that very same thing for the last five years at least, but there it was for all to see in the testimony: Grand-Am solely existed via the checkbook of Jim France. And certain teams - as well as certain manufacturers - were favored with big money to compete, so that the Grand-Am series would actually look like a real, viable racing series instead of the anti-Don Panoz, anti-ALMS power play that it was all along. Did this revelation shock me? Not in the least. I have been over and over and over the whole Grand-Am vs. American Le Mans Series battle ad nauseum in this column and I won't bother doing it again here today, but suffice to say, if this doesn't throw a bucket of cold water on some of the more idealistic racing fans out there who naively thought that there was a modicum of integrity associated with certain purveyors of major league sports car racing in this country, I don't know what will.
But before I go any further with this, it's important to remember that promoters have been paying competitors to show up since the very first car race happened way back when, so it's nothing new. And it will continue to happen as long as racing exists too. It's just extremely rare that the depth and breadth and scope of what went on in Grand-Am gets out in public. Not that it will change anything, of course. Jim France got tired of the whole thing just as much as Don Panoz did, so France did the most expedient thing possible: he wrote a nice, big, fat check to Panoz & Co. for $20 million or thereabouts and a truce, I mean "merger" was joined.
Racing is about the money. Whether you're cobbling together a sponsorship for $2500 from Joe's Welding for your local dirt track car or you're presenting $25 million budget proposals in boardrooms of multi-national conglomerates for an associate sponsorship on an F1 car, it's all the same, only the zeros change.
Racing is also about assuaging immense egos, orchestrating political theater on a grand scale, and power and control. The infamous Indy car "split" that destroyed Indy car racing? It was about money and control. Tony George didn't have it and he not only wanted it, he felt he and his family deserved it because of their enduring ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And the ensuing war damn near killed the sport of major league open-wheel racing in this country once and for all.
The fight between Jim France vs. Don Panoz? It was about control of major league sports car racing here in the U.S., yes, but it was also about the France family projecting their power and influence over all of American racing because of their staunch and indefatigable belief that they know what's best for everyone involved in the sport and the sooner everyone goes along with their "vision" the better off we'll all be. That attitude served to marginalize a sport that was already exiled to the margins to begin with, and the sport of major league road racing has done nothing but tread water in this country because of it.
I could go on and on, but the fact that I haven't even mentioned Formula One yet - which has devolved into such an orgy of outrageous expense and mind-numbing excess that it almost defies explanation - seems like an excellent place to stop.
Part of me clings to hope in all of this because I know countless people involved in racing up to their eyeballs at every level who believe in the sport and enjoy every waking moment in it. They're bright and talented and committed, and they truly make the sport what it is - at least the best parts of it - today.
The rest of it? Unseemly comes to mind, along with a host of other disparaging words.
And the fact that the manufacturers too often play the game with some of the lesser lights in the sport in the name of projecting their image at all costs usually results in conduct detrimental to the overall health of the sport itself and it is unconscionable. Instead, these participating manufacturers should be banding together and stepping up to elevate the overall arc and image of the sport while taking it to a much higher plane.
But then again when it's all about the money, that's clearly expecting far too much.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives))
Watkins Glen, New York, July 20, 1973. The No. 1 Gulf Research Racing Co. Mirage M6 Ford Cosworth driven by Derek Bell/Howden Ganley waits to go out for practice for the Watkins Glen 6 Hours. The duo qualified seventh and finished fourth in the mid-summer endurance event. Gérard Larrousse/Henri Pescarolo (No. 33 Equipe Matra Matra MS670B won the race, followed by Jackie Ickx/Brian Redman (No. 10 Ferrari SEFAC SPA Ferrari 312 PB) and Arturo Merzario/Carlos Pace (No. 11 Ferrari SEFAC SPA Ferrari 312 PB). This was back when the United States hosted three major sports car endurance races that drew international attention and entries: The Daytona 24 Hour, 12 Hours of Sebring and the Watkins Glen 6 Hours.