Keeping It Off the Wall|
by Ed Donath
Born In Brooklyn
Cairo, NYŚTwelve years ago, after ordering tickets by phone the first morning they were announced for sale, my friends and I who were all former Indy 500 junkies began planning our driving trips from the Albany, New York area to the Irish Hills of Michigan for the Inaugural US 500. Even on that first day of ticket sales, the closest available accommodations to the Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn was a chain hotel nearly an hour away in Ann Arbor.
It was no surprise, therefore, to see the grandstands packed to capacity with 105,000 butts on the benches when race day rolled around.
It was a win/win for CART co-founder and team owner Roger Penske who was also the Michigan Speedway owner (at least he didn't inherit it). Penske would have a guaranteed Memorial Weekend venue at which to display his sponsor's Marlboro livery in addition to windfall revenue from the sold-out US 500.
Team Penske's CART associates -- Newman-Haas, Ganassi, Rahal, Payton-Coyne, Walker, Bettenhausen, Patrick, Forsythe, PacWest, Green, Della Penna plus some occasional players -- were all brothers in solidarity against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway inheritor's decision to limit "outside participation" (cars not signed-up for a full season of racing in his split-off Indy Racing League) at the Indy 500 to only eight entries.
With nary an Internet user among the majority of the fans of our beloved speed sport in 1996, most news about the split and the competing 500's was gleaned from car buff and racing magazines, National Speed Sport News, USA Today, and the Indianapolis Star, for which many of us non-Hoosiers kept a next-day mail subscription.
In any number of submissions to the aforementioned print media this renegade scribe proposed Formula America as the new name for the CART series. My reasoning was that the entire world could relate to both "Formula" and "America" and that America is a more widely known name than "Indy" so it would be more representative of a world series.
It wasn't until the opening practice session in Brooklyn that we heard the term Champ Car applied to CART's world's-fastest racing machines for the first time. As I recall it was Al Unser Jr. who used the term in a pre-race TV interview, nicely avoiding the soon-to-be dreaded IndyCar term.
Champ Car quickly became the operative phrase and the discussion about what to re-name the series quickly ceased. That was also due, in part, to the unveiling of the recycled Vanderbilt Cup on that first day of US 500 practice. It was placed on a table under a canopy on the high-traffic mall under the main grandstand and two uniformed guards kept watch on the cup at all times during the long US 500 weekend.
The V-Cup harkened back to the old days and made the Champ Car reference more relevant. It was awarded to the Inaugural US 500 winner (Jimmy Vasser) along with a million-dollar cash prize. Of course, the Vanderbilt Cup would later become the series champion's trophy when PPG ended its long association with CART.
Being born in a place called Brooklyn myself -- the one that's arguably known as both the urban capital of stick-and-ball sports and the original capital of the coining of phrases -- it was refreshing to meet fellow open-wheel racing fans from every part of the world that wonderful weekend in Brooklyn, Michigan where the phrase Champ Car became our watchword.
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