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NEXT SUNDAY, November 2, 2014, is the U.S. Grand Prix, held now at COTA, Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Texas. In the past, Formula One races in the U.S. have been held in a variety of venues, including Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, N.Y.; Long Beach, California; Detroit, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; even Dallas, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Phoenix, Arizona (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-w2, “Phoenix Grand Prix 1989”).
F1 races at Long Beach, Detroit and Indy also gave me a bunch of treasured memories.
The Long Beach GP, also known as the United States Grand Prix West, is not to be confused with other open-wheel races at this venue.
Back in the days when circuits had to “prove themselves” with lesser races (rather than simply with cash), Long Beach hosted a Formula 5000 event in 1975. Events in the Formula One World Championship followed from 1976 through 1983.
A portion of downtown Long Beach, once festooned with porno parlors and similar sleeze, evolved into a thriving Convention Center and other more salubrious entertainments. At Grand Prix time, R&T would take advantage of the venue (the salubrious stuff, I stress) by throwing a party for its advertisers in a rented tent with refreshment and meals and grandstand seats. Editorial types got invited too.
Our most memorable event was the last one, 1983. John Watson and his McLaren-Ford won from 22nd place on the starting grid, a record still standing in modern Grands Prix.
High excitement came quickly at about the three-quarter point of the first lap. Patrick Tambay and his Ferrari started from the pole. He kept his lead through the first lap, the Williams of Keke Rosberg (current F1 driver Nico’s father) hounding him, with the usual chaos just behind the leading pair.
Videos show that Keke made several moves to pass. Then, directly in front of our grandstand, Keke lost it, did a complete 360 and—with the pack bearing down—caught it and continued chasing Tambay. See http://goo.gl/gX7q4w.
We cheered like crazy. I still cheer at the video 31 years later.
Detroit was, like Long Beach and Monaco, a city circuit winding around high rises next to sparkling waters, in this case the Detroit River. The first Formula One race in Detroit was 1982, the year the U.S. had an unprecedented three Grands Prix (the other two, Long Beach and Las Vegas). Detroit continued as a Formula One venue through 1988.
R&T threw good parties at Detroit. We’d establish digs in the Renaissance Center overlooking the Ford Corner. This was back in the days that Renaissance Center was Ford territory, not GM headquarters.
I recall watching practice from the umpteenth floor of a Renaissance tower, of elevator rides with the likes of Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna, and of R&T’s F1 correspondent Rob Walker offering us a fine example of English folklore. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-jU, “Rob’s New Moon.”
Farther south, the Formula One crowd was attracted to Indianapolis from 2000 through 2007.
R&T made a big deal of the inaugural Indianapolis GP, in that the Newport Beach editorial office more or less emptied out and moved to the Midwest.
My favorite Indy hotel at the time was a Homewood Suites in the northern part of the city, whereas the Indy Motor Speedway is on its western fringe. The magazine chartered a bus with motorcycle escort for travel to and from the circuit. Indeed, this turned out to be a most memorable aspect of the U.S. Grand Prix Indianapolis 2000.
No doubt an orchestrated entertainment, as our motorcycle cop brought us close to the Motor Speedway, he went into a trick-riding routine. I recall he stood on the seat, arms above his head, and maneuvered his cycle by leaning one way or the other.
We on the bus cheered as much as we did for Keke back in 1983. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014