Uncensored CΛRT Commentary|
by Ed Donath
I had a dream…
ATHENS, NY—I awoke in a sweat in the wee hours of the other morning. Granted, the heat and humidity have been oppressive 24/7 here in upstate New York this August but in this particular instance my perspiration was not the result of faulty air conditioning. A too-real dream had caused my discomfort.
This dream took place within a collage of years…
One moment it was 1995 and a baby-faced Jacques Villeneuve was inching-out road course victories over the old pros of the series; Al Unser Jr., Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi were there.
In the next moment, the night after his extra-five-miles victory in the last meaningful Indy 500, Jacques was about to answer David Letterman’s challenge to a race around a city block versus a New York cabbie in equally prepared yellow taxis. How well—and how fondly—I remember horsing hefty Checker Marathons around intersection corners and onto parkway ramps.
The handsome heartthrob’s publicist always claimed that a struggling Danny Sullivan was one of my fellow hacksters out there on the hot streets during The Summer of ‘69. To the best of my recollection, however, the spin-and-win Indy 500 champion and I never diced for position in heavy midtown traffic.
Suddenly it was 1996. A strong team of veterans—undistracted by months of Indy planning—stood behind Jimmy Vasser. Mo Nunn and company combined with the emerging advantage of the Reynard/Honda package enabled a homegrown California boy to thrill American fans.
Jimmy not only won the PPG Cup but, en route to the championship, also acquired the resurrected Vanderbilt Cup, plus a million-dollar prize, by winning the popular Protest US 500 before 100,000+ of what had suddenly been dubbed “Champ Car” fans at Michigan Speedway. Meanwhile, a watered-down contingent of has-beens and never-wuzzes ran in the traditional Memorial Weekend event.
Despite Alex Zanardi’s heavy tire smoke that filled the air in 1997 the faces of Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell were clearly discernable. The classy perpetually smiling Brazilian not only broke through in Vancouver but set the world on its ear a month later with a super-speedway qualifying lap in excess of 240 mph.
Meanwhile, Big Mo’s affable British teammate and fellow former F-1 pilot was winning the hearts and minds of Europeans by streaking to a handful of surprising summer victories against the likes of highly-touted hot shoes like Dario Franchitti, Helio Castro-Neves, and Gil de Ferran. Of course, that also included the aforementioned old pros, the Italian doughnut make, and the late Greg Moore.
Over the next couple of years the empty spaces of the dream collage were filled-in with images of gorgeous and exotic venues—Rio de Janeiro, Surfers Paradise, Motegi. There were two almost-identical photos of South Americans—one of a calm, proud Columbian and the other of a diminutive, intense Brazilian—each waving goodbye to Champ Car fans as they boarded flights to greener pastures.
Suddenly the dream fast-forwarded to the present and there were unidentifiable men whispering about the present and future of our beloved speed sport behind closed doors. I stood outside their meeting room thinking: “I wonder if any of these guys have ever realized how the many missed marketing and promotion opportunities were, in fact, the major reason for their present talks?”
So many interesting personalities with built-in nationalistic fan bases…so many exotic race weekend destinations…so much technology, speed and danger and such tantalizingly close competition…always so very much to be talking and writing about.
I put my ear to the door. All I could hear was talk about cutting expensive overseas events, scrapping programs, and taking the remaining races—almost exclusively—to the streets. Not a word about the sexy driveboys or exotic venues. No talk of kicking-up the advertising and TV exposure.
I awoke in a sweat from my latest Champ Car nightmare.
Copyright © 2003 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.
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