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2:09 p.m. - June 20, 2005
The Greatest Debacle In Racing
I’ve never been to a debacle before. I guess there’s a first time for anything.

On Father’s Day, I set off to attend the United States Grand Prix with Mac, who had flown in from Maryland for the occasion. Mac and I are one of the few, yet proud, Formula One racing fans in this country, and ever since the Grand Prix was staged in Indianapolis we have attended. (Mac has missed a couple of years, but not by choice).

Those of you who are acquainted with me know I am a huge racing fan, especially open wheel racing. I’ve attended the Indianapolis 500 each year since 1973, and have followed Formula One closely for over 10 years, many times waking up early Sunday morning to see the racing live from Europe.

This year’s grand prix was going to be one of the best ones. The field was close, there was no dominant car and there was certainly a chance that one of six or eight drivers could win.

When we arrived at the track, I noticed a great buzz and vibe in the air. Almost every fan had some sort of raceparaphernalia on, either a shirt, or hat, or something. Some had painted their faces, and some were carrying huge flags supporting their favorite drivers and teams. There were over 100,000 people there and it was going to be quite an event.

I went and bought three hats – two for me and one for City Mouse. She wanted to come to the race with her cousin but couldn’t swing it, but I told her I send her a hat. Sid couldn’t make it either – so I sold my other two tickets on eBay to someone from Illinois who brought his 10-year old son.

It had been an event-filled weekend. I watched Friday practice from home, and two of the Toyota cars had accidents that were blamed on their Michelin tires. On Saturday, there was word that Michelin was going to try to replace their tires after qualifying, which was against the new rule put in this year that there shall be no tire changes after qualifying – including the race.

Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to many fans, there was posturing and bickering between the tire company and the sanctioning body. But no one thought that there wouldn’t be a race. Somehow, rational people would make a rational decision, especially when there was about $8 to $10 million in ticket money alone at stake, not to mention concessions, merchandise and parking fees.

Not to mention the multitudes of the 100,000 that traveled great distances to see this event. There was a great contingency from Colombia, rooting for Juan Pablo Montoya. There were many Europeans, mainly Germans, and countless others from all across the globe.

The support races went off without a hitch and there was great anticipation in the air. For many of us, this was the sporting event of the year. We were the F-1 diehards, the ones who spent money and followed the sport with a passion. Ferrari wasn’t going to win the championship – it probably would be either Renault or McLaren. Fernando Alonso was in the lead of the driver’s title, but Kimi Raikkonen was definitely someone who could challenge. The BAR team was much improved – and Toyota was on the pole. The only thing that hadn’t changed was that the Minardis and Jordans were the backmarkers of the field.

Ferrari, Minardi and Jordan used Bridgestone tires – which had been awful for most of the season. Michelin was the tire to beat, even though they had issues at Indianapolis, it seemed like the cars shod in Michelin were still the ones to beat.

However, about 30 minutes before the race was going to start, I heard some bad news around. Some fans had scanners and were picking up broadcast signals. There was trouble, indeed, about the tires. There was talk of a boycott.

It seems that there were many proposals to alleviate the tire situation. Many of you have read about these in the newspapers and on the internet – but to listen to these reports at that track, knowing how much money you have invested in seeing this race – it was disheartening and disconcerting. However, you just KNEW these people wouldn’t ruin the race for the fans and there’d be some sort of compromise.

I guess Henry Clay wasn’t available for duty.

The cars formed up on the grid, and then went around the track on the formation lap. All 20 cars were there – so they must have worked something out.

Then, on the video screen, we saw all of the Michelin runners, 14 of them, pull into the pits. Many of us thought they were going to change tires, and accept a penalty to start from pit lane. We were all fine with that – we just wanted to see a race!

Then we saw the remaining six cars take off on the standing start – and the other cars being wheeled into their garages.

This race was only going to have six cars, and four of them were the dregs of the field.

I was stunned at first – as were most of the fans. Then the boos started, the cups and bottles started flying, and a great sense of angst, fear, and loathing settled over the crowd. It was a farce of a race, a sham, a travesty.

Mac and I stuck it out to about ¼ of the way through the race. I had to finish my beer, of course. Then we trudged to my car and drove home. I was angry – so angry I was pretty quiet on the way home.

I was thinking of the money I had spent – the money Mac had spent to get out here – the money that the person who bought my other two tickets had spent. How was he going to explain this to his son?

Petty bickering, petty politics and petty people ruined my Fathers’ Day. The political nature of this sport makes Tom Delay seem like a conciliatory leader looking for the common ground.

After I dropped off Mac, I just took off for a drive in the country to cool down. I called City Mouse, and basically said she was lucky she couldn’t come to the race this year. She talked about going to Montreal for next year’s GP, and I would love to go but that would be expensive. And I don’t know if I want to spend any more money on this sport.

When I got home, Liz, Katie and Kristin tried to make me feel better. I grilled steaks, and enjoyed some mint chocolate brownies and a good bottle of wine. At least my digestive tract felt good, but I was (and still am) pretty sore about the whole thing.

It’s sad when something you dearly love treats you like you are nothing. And I can blame so many people for this issue. I blame the sanctioning body, Michelin, the rule makers, the stupid tire rule, Bernie Ecclestone, Max Moseley, Ferrari. They all can rot right now. I feel used and abused.

As of this writing, I don’t know what I am going to do about next years race, if there is a next year. I invest a lot of money up front to get my race tickets, and I always spend a lot of money on merchandise at the track. I support this sport to the maximum I can – everyone in my grandstand were also die-hard fans who spend a lot of money to watch this race and this sport.

The irony is that on Friday, Bernie Ecclestone said that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway needed to promote the race a great deal more in order to increase attendance. Bernie, you may want to actually HAVE a race, and not a glorified tire test, next year.

And even if they do – perhaps it would be justice if tickets were just half price, and Bernie would have to eat the balance of the price – or if the race were run to empty stands.

But of course, men with power and men with egos will probably be blinded by both. But Bernie, Nero fiddled while Rome burned (allegedly), and I hear that you can saw a mean one on the old violin.

 

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