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Night Vision

I have one word to describe the weekend at Cleveland featuring the first ever open wheel night time road racing event -- wow!

I have two words to all those who felt this night experiment was a mistake, who felt they shouldn't take one of the most successful CART events and muck with it, who came up with every ridiculous reason after ridiculous reason why Chris Pook was an idiot for trying this, who whined that the race wasn't being shown on television till the next day which meant the idea was a complete failure -- bah humbug!

I'll add three more words to that -- you were wrong.

The 2003 version of the US Bank presents the Cleveland Grand Prix was nothing short of magnificent. Thrilling. Exciting. Entertaining. Fun. Cool. Awesome.

And most important of all, a grand success.

So much was right about this past weekend's format, it's hard to know where to start.

Let's start where the Bible does -- light. When I first arrived at the track, I was struck by how far Musco had put the lights from the racing surface. On the pit side, they were located out in the parking lots behind the grandstands, far from the pits, and even further from the main straightaway.

The lights on the backside were set quite a distance from the back stretch as well. Yet, they were very powerful lights, and after some minor adjustments when they were tried out Thursday night, they did appear to give the drivers the ability to see where they were going. (Though, standing at pit out, it was difficult seeing cars coming down pit lane to rejoin the track, especially the ones with a dark paint scheme.)

This didn't prevent a lot of off course action during Thursday night's practice session, but come race time, all the off course excursions occurred before the sun went down. The only spin at night was when Vasser looped it in the infamous first turn at the end of the race.

Though it may seem silly to be creating all this artificial light when we are just two weeks past the longest day, it was a pleasure not having to endure the searing afternoon sun. It was hot during the days, especially on Friday before a brief shower cooled things down, and to be able to avoid the typical frying pan of Burke Lakefront Airport in July was a welcomed change.

By shifting the schedule of each day, it allowed many folks to show up Thursday after work and still see many hours of on track activity. Friday of course allowed the double header entertainment of qualifying under the setting sun followed shortly by the huge fireworks show all for a special $5 price after 6:00 PM. Then, Sunday allowed those who just show up for the race the added benefit of doing something else during the day and still being able to enjoy the race, something that might help increase attendance in the future.

The race itself at night? When the sun set, it was a spectacular sight. The track, already visible to almost all in the grandstands seemed to take on a greater amount of visibility as there were no distractions beyond the track to make the eye wonder. The corner worker stations stood out as well instead of being lost in the scenery.

The cars themselves were the main attraction. They twinkled under the lights. The brake rotors glowed. The sparks flew when they bottomed out. Most impressive, you could see the blue and orange exhaust flames with yellow sparks shooting out during a pit stop.

At one point, I stood in Tracy's pit area for his last stop. Seeing the flames shoot out when he stopped while revving the engine, and then seeing them get larger when they dropped the car as Tracy kept it on the limiter getting ready to launch out of the box, was nothing short of heart stopping.

I've always said that racing offers something no other sport can offer -- it plays on all your senses, from the sights to the sounds to the smells to the vibrations and even to the taste of the burning methanol, nothing equals the experience on the body like racing does. For those folks already quite familiar with Friday and Saturday night racing at the local track or sports car endurance events in the dark you know the night enhances those senses even further. However, to see an open wheel road race with 750 HP turbo engines play out at night was awe inspiring.

I also had the privilege to be on the track since I once again worked as a transport driver shuttling workers and supplies to and from the corners. A son of the one of the workers whose corner I was responsible for came along for the rides and said it better than I could.

When we drove onto the track to pick up the corner workers at the end of the first day, he looked around soaking it all in as only a kid could, and said, "Cool." He paused, taking more of the experience in, and said, "This is awesome!"

Chris Pook and CART should be commended for having great vision ... great night vision.

{Editor's Note -- the author just found out that his sister is getting married next 4th of July weekend. He reports if the 2004 Cleveland Grand Prix is at night again, it will be a shame that he will miss her wedding.}

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Copyright © 2003 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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