By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In the aftermath of the debacle in Baltimore, any discussion that comes in the postmortem has to revolve around one pertinent issue and that is what do we want big-time road racing in this country to look like going forward? I can say with certainty that it can't resemble anything like the event staged on the streets of Baltimore. (Now let me say right up front that Baltimore is a fine city with good people and has a lot to offer, but that doesn't mean the city is equipped to host racing on its city streets, because it most certainly isn't.)
But therein lies the fundamental problem. There's a very vocal and monied faction in big-time motorsport today that believes the only solution for the future of racing is to "bring the racing to the people."
I've heard this argument since Formula 1 was brought to the streets of Detroit three decades ago. And I'm hearing it again from the new Formule E series, too, which is selling itself as benign, friendly racing that can be promoted as being politically and environmentally correct in major cities around the world that normally wouldn't consider sanctioning a racing event of any kind. (By the way the "sound" that Formula E is promoting as being ultra-hip is a flat-out joke. If I want to hear a vacuum cleaner on high scream I will go vacuum a rug.)
"Bring the racing to the people and they will come," or something like that. In other words, take over streets of a city du jour, stage a race there, charge people big money and hopefully somewhere in there after the (substantial) costs are taken out the promoter makes money, the city enjoys travel and entertainment revenue, and the spectators have a good enough time to want more.
The typical scenario goes like this: A mayor and/or city council becomes enamored with the idea of having a race, whether on their own or after being approached by a local entrepreneur. The idea progresses through the political labyrinth set up to decide on such things, and at some point it gains approval. A three-year (usually) contract is signed, the event is promoted, the first year is a happening (at least to varying degrees) and a good time (sort of) is had by all.
The event then loses a little luster after each year (yes, Long Beach is the sparkly exception), attendance and interest wane, the city doesn't see the revenue that it hoped, the promoter runs into financial difficulties and the event is not renewed. Oh, and occasionally along the way - and usually after the fact - the actual racers and team owners who have to compete on the temporary circuit du jour are asked their opinions.
What's wrong with this picture? How about everything?
The process is ass backwards. When it comes to the actual racing, the racers who make up the competition committee of the given series should approve any proposed concept of an event idea before it gets anywhere near city planners. Now I will be the first to agree that, as Dr. Bud says, "drivers will race through a shit storm for Twinkies" they want to do it so bad. And that's very true. And to their detriment at times, to say the least.
But the actual racers are the ones who need to approve the circuit in question, not the promoters. I have to believe that the racers, to a man, or woman, wouldn't approve that circuit in Baltimore if they had been given the 411 on the actual "track" in question, which, in hindsight would make a perfect Global Rally Cross venue or a place for Robby Gordon to do his Super Truck thing. (Simon Pagenaud, who insists that Baltimore is his favorite track, obviously missed his calling.)
Listen, it's no big secret that I prefer road racing. I understand and appreciate and actually really do like a lot about oval racing, but road racing is my first love. And road racing on natural-terrain racing circuits is the best way to do it. What went on in Baltimore isn't road racing. It's promoter racing. It's convenience racing (not convenient for the racers, I might add, just convenient for all the people involved who aren't doing the actual racing). And, of course, it's about the money, pure and simple.
Do I believe the drivers and team owners would willingly go to a track featuring train tracks and a ludicrous chicane that does nothing but destroy equipment every lap if they had their druthers? No, of course not. And you shouldn't either. The carnage that went on in Baltimore was simply inexcusable, sanctioned stupidity at its most glaring. It simply shouldn't have taken place. Period.
The future of major league road racing in this country is on the razor edge of having no future, yet again. Why? Because the powers that be seem incapable of making the right decisions, when given the chance.
Major league road racing in this country is in desperate need of heroic, big-time racing venues that show off the spectacular capabilities of modern road racing machines, if it is to survive, let alone thrive. Racing in shopping mall parking lots or temporary circuits that are unfit for city buses, let alone million-dollar racing machines is relentlessly stupid, ill-advised and a detriment to the sport itself.
And here we are with INDYCAR contemplating a return to Baltimore for another three years. Why? Oh, I don't know, maybe it's because Michael Andretti's race promotion company holds the contract there. Yeah, that sounds about right. After all, why let reasoned, rational thought get in the way of making money?
The new United Sports Car Racing series has already said that they won't be back to Baltimore under any circumstances. They should be applauded for that, but then again they are deleting two natural-terrain road racing circuits from the existing ALMS schedule for 2014, but that's for another column.
Where is this all going, and where do we go from here?
If you think this is the end of stupidity masquerading as racing in this country I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. Because as long as there is money to made and as long as shark-like promoters are swimming around looking for their next meal, racing will continue to take place in places that it should never take place.
And that's the High-Octane Truth in the racing world this week.
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 by Dave Friedman courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Ontario, California, February 28, 1971. A.J. Foyt (No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Teleprompter TV/Foulger Ford/Purolator Mercury) passes Richard Petty (No. 43 Petty Enterprises Plymouth) and Bobby Isaac (No. 71K&K Insurance Dodge) on his way to the win in The Miller High Life 500 NASCAR race at the Ontario Motor Speedway. Petty would run third and Isaac fourth that day, while Buddy Baker (No. 11 Petty Enterprises Dodge) would finish second.
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