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Cleveland Diary:
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Part One -- The Good

I had never been to Cleveland. Never had any desire to. To me, Cleveland was all about a city that went bankrupt in the recession of the 70's, a city with a river that went ablaze, literally, and a city that couldn't keep their beloved Browns. What did Cleveland have to offer? Well, a CART race. While I was there, I learned the city once known as The Mistake by the Lake was anything but.

The first good of the trip came when I drove up to St. Catharines, Ontario Friday evening to hook up with my Canadian racing buddies whom I met last year at Toronto. This was a good Internet friendship that was even better in person. No strange Internet gathering turned ax murdering tabloid material here.

Upon entering Canada, I knew to drive a bit faster. I got up to 65 mph -- whatever the heck that is in kph -- and was passed by everyone and their grandmother driving Winnebagos. So, up to 70 mph. Cars still zipped by me. Okay, 75 mph must be the trick ... nope. Well then, 80 mph. There, that's better. Mind you, for the rest of my short time on the QEW, I passed just one car once I got up to 80. Oh, Canada! What a great country.

As soon as I laid eyes on the track, I realized two things. One, if you want ambiance, beauty, and character typically found at a natural terrain road course, or even a street course, this is not the place to find it. Two, if you want a road course where you can nearly see the entire track, where drivers can really hang it out, and where passing is in abundance, then this is the place.

The Trans-Am race was a dandy mainly because Brian Simo was made to start from the rear due to failing technical inspection after qualifying. Willy T. Ribbs also started from the back after blowing a motor in qualifying. Ribbs didn't last the whole race, however, so it was Simo that put on a dazzling display that had him driving in the dirt on the last lap trying to grab second place. He would settle for third.

Later that evening we went to The Flats, the night time entertainment district in Cleveland. It resides on that aforementioned river of infamy that is now nicely cleaned up. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, live music, and plenty of extremely expensive boats were plentiful. And the scenery ... ahem ... of a different sort was extremely pleasing to the [male] eye.

While heading to The Flats in the hotel shuttle bus, the driver gave us free passes to the circus. Hey, free admission to a circus. Pretty neat. Oh, The Circus, as in A Gentlemen's Club. After we got to The Flats, and took the obligatory tourist trap water taxi across the river -- for three bucks -- we wondered about trying to find a place to eat. An hour and a half later, unable to make any decision whatsoever, we finally settled on the Watermark Restaurant, a fine choice that should have been made after ten minutes. Management material we are not.

As a perfect example of how Cleveland has come back from the dead, one only needs to look at the attractions that reside next to the Burke Lakefront Airport. First is the USS Cod, a docked submarine unaltered since WWII, then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Science Center with an Omnimax theater, and finally the new football stadium housing the resurrected Browns.

The final good came as we were leaving the race. We cut through the terminal to head back to the hotel. While there, the top three drivers wondered through on their way to the press conference. When Roberto Moreno entered, fans cheered and clapped. He stopped and shook hands with a bunch of kids. I too could have personally congratulated him. This brought back memories of the 1979 USGP at Watkins Glen when I nearly bumped into Gilles Villenueve carrying the winner's trophy after being able to get right up close to the podium celebrations. Now, F1 heroes are kept at seemingly fifty miles from the common fan. NASCAR isn't much better. But in CART, one can still reach out and touch the drivers. That's what I call a good thing.

Go to Part Two -- The Bad of the Cleveland Diary.

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