By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. As readers of this column know, I've long been underwhelmed with street or temporary road course races, because I find them to be contrived and too often resulting in races that are boring processionals, with the Grand Prix of Monaco the lone exception. (Not that Monaco is all that different, except for the exceptional setting and the history that drips from the place, and the fact that they still actually run modern day Grand Prix cars on the circuit, which is simply mind boggling.)
For spectators, street and temporary road course races can be extremely trying to attend, with the CSS factor (for Can't See Shit) usually off of the charts. Being forced to sit in a grandstand as opposed to having the freedom to walk around a natural-terrain road racing circuit is not my idea of a good time, and many racing enthusiasts seem to agree, which is why it's difficult for these kinds of events to sustain themselves over time.
The IndyCar event in Houston is a prime example of the difficulties of staging a street/temporary road course race in a major metropolitan city. First of all, pounding around on bronco-busting asphalt in 90+ degree weather and high humidity is a difficult enough challenge for the drivers and crews, but it's also difficult for spectators who have to negotiate walking around the hot asphalt and then baking in the blistering hot bleachers as well. Secondly, the "can't see shit" part of it is beyond annoying too. Being forced to sit in one place and watching monitors or listening to race broadcasts to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the race is difficult, and not exactly conducive to repeat visits.
Taking all of this into account then, I must admit I was surprised that the IndyCar racing in Houston turned out to be fantastic. And I don't get to say that often when it comes to the IndyCar Series. The rain in race 1 provided for a massive amount of entertainment, with sublime moves punctuated by optimistic maneuvers by some drivers - at best - with some flat-out stupidity thrown in for good measure. And race 2 on Sunday was a knock-down, drag-out, cut-and-thrust street fight, with enough banging and "excuse me, but I'm comin' through" passes to make you stand up out of your chair and start yelling at the TV. (See more coverage from Houston in "The Line" - WG)
I don't know what was more entertaining, the actual racing itself or the banter of the NBCSportsNetwork announcing team comprised of Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy and surprise guest Steve Matchett, who regularly comments on NBCSN's F1 broadcasts. Diffey is solid and punctuates the action nicely, Tracy is finding his footing in the booth and is starting to get off some great comments, and Matchett in particular was wildly entertaining, as his complete astonishment that the IndyCar stars actually get it on in no uncertain terms and in cutthroat fashion was an absolute revelation to him. As well it should be, because there was more action in last weekend's two races than in an entire season of Grand Prix racing put together. The icing on the cake was yet another outstanding job by Robin Miller, with a completely fascinating interview of A.J. Foyt, one of the true legends - in every sense of the word - of the sport. Great stuff indeed.
Yes, the race weekend seemed sparsely attended, but the IndyCar Series managed to put on a show, surprising even themselves, if they actually wanted to admit it. And with 500 miles at Pocono's unique tri-oval coming up next Sunday, maybe - just maybe - IndyCar can string together a couple of great racing weekends.
Here's hoping for more.
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)
Silverstone, England, July 18, 1975. Emerson Fittipaldi (No. 1 McLaren-Cosworth M23) in the pits on the Saturday before that year's British Grand Prix. A chaotic race that started in the dry, had rain, went dry again, then finally ended with torrential rain, it was a dramatic race from a classic era. Fittipaldi would win that day, but many drivers ended-up going off course at the end of the race. Carlos Pace (No. 8 Brabham-Cosworth BT44B) was classified as finishing second, and Jody Scheckter (No. 3 Tyrrell-Cosworth 007) third. Watch a video here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD