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The View From Over Here - Still Born in the USA?

FEATURE BY JIM CASEY
29/11/2011

Last week's news that next year's race in Austin, Texas is off was not a huge surprise. Questions and arguments had flown around about the project from the beginning. The fulcrum being the $25 million fee paid to Bernie, from a state taxpayer fund designed to bring special events to Texas, in anticipation of lots of tourists spending lots of money. As an example, the fund was used to help bring the Super Bowl to Dallas this past February, which, despite horrid weather most of the week, did prove to be an economic boon to the state.

With the race scheduled for June, hopes were realistic that the state controller, an elective office, could massage the numbers sufficiently to deflect any negative aspects. But with the race date switched to November, on the cusp of the election, there would be no time to massage tourist numbers and income projections. Voters would be left with just the spectre of Bernie Ecclestone, wizened, greedy, misogynistic troll that he is, with a briefcase bulging with twenty-five million Texas taxpayer dollars. With that position clearly untenable, the state controller's office had no choice but to pull the plug on paying the fee up front, which is, of course, the only way Bernie does business. So construction of the track has now been stopped, and the only race that could take place on the track as it currently sits, is motocross, or dirt track sprint cars, either of which, in that part of the world, might draw a bigger crowd than F1 anyway.

At the same time, we are being teased with the idea that there will be a Grand Prix on city streets in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City. The proposed track does look interesting, and the Governor of New Jersey actually appeared at the press conference, and claimed to be enthusiastic about the idea. The promoter, Leo Hindery of the YES Network, a regional sports channel that carries New York Yankee baseball games, and an occasional sports car racer himself, claims that no public money will be needed for track construction, sanctioning fees, public transportation upgrades, or, indeed, anything at all. The race will take place on city streets, through neighbourhoods, past high-rise apartment buildings. Somehow I can't imagine all these people being thrilled about having their lives thoroughly disrupted for a full week each year. As fans we love the sound of F1 engines, but not everyone does. When the "Not in my Backyard" crowd gets done, I doubt if we will be celebrating to the strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Racing in the Streets" or "Thunder Road." More likely to be appropriate will be "Darkness on the Edge of Town" or "Badlands."

Fortunately, I've been to a few Formula One races in the US. Long Beach in 1977, Watkins Glen in 1980, and Detroit in 1983. I'd love to see F1 back in the US again, but it should be at our best track, Road America. Just an hour north of Milwaukee, 2 ½ hours from Chicago, 4 miles of fast and slow corners, up and down hills, excellent spectator facilities, plenty of straights, and best of all, no chicanes. It won't happen there because Bernie doesn't like it, and the owners of the track are probably too sensible to consider paying Bernie the hideous amount of money he wants to bring his circus to town, so it's Montreal for Formula One in North America. I was there for the race in 1981, and I've been to Montreal several times, and it is one of my favourite cities. Not so much the track, which is a sea of chicanes connecting two hairpins. Amazingly tedious, especially considering Herman Tilke had nothing to do with it.

Do the NASCAR people, who own Watkins Glen, have any interest in bringing F1 back to the second-best track in the US? Unlikely, as they are notoriously tight with their money, and do not want to promote any series they do not control.

Now that the last race of the F1 season is over, and the teams have gone home, we can already start looking forward to next year. The schedule will change, and I am now fully resigned to F1 not coming to the United States.

Jim Casey
jim.casey@pitpass.com

To check out previous features from Jim, click here

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