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Driving The Cleveland Track ... In A Truck

At this year's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, I had the unique opportunity to drive one of the SCCA support trucks, a Chevy 4x4 Silverado, for the weekend. What did this mean? It meant whenever the corner workers needed to be transported to or from their stations, when they needed lunch and water delivered, or in the case of this year's event, when they had to be evacuated due to lightning, I and my fellow transport drivers got to drive on the track.

Sure, it wasn't a Champ Car, or for that matter even a Barber Dodge car, but it was still thrilling in its own right. For starters, there is no possible way to fully appreciate how wide this course is until you are actually on it. The Cleveland track is huge! I'm surprised they don't lose a driver or two every year looking for his way around the vast expanses of the runways.

The lack of markers and other means to know where your braking points are and when the corners are coming up is also apparent when you are on the track. There are brake markers and cones erected, but it still must be difficult for the drivers.

Luckily for us, we weren't hammering the course, though we sometimes did open it up a tad bit especially when nobody was in the back of the truck. Which brings me to another interesting observation. When transporting the workers around, they would sit in the back, exposed to the world. Yet, their total confidence in us drivers was startling. Or perhaps they simply hid their fear very well...

Nonetheless, they all knew we were national competition licensed drivers, and were not about to do something that would make the SCCA look bad. In fact, there was an interesting relationship between CART and the SCCA. Kind of like a shotgun wedding -- they need us to supply workers and help organize portions of the event, but they just as soon be able to do it all themselves ... if they could.

However, we have to give credit where credit is due. CART did praise us for our quick work clearing the course during the thunderstorms and then promptly returning the workers to their posts. That was certainly quite interesting, and somewhat comical. Every time we had the workers back at the SCCA trailer, the lightning had stopped, and we had to head back to the track. By the third time, the workers were joking, "Gee, do you think we could actually get out of the truck this time?" Then there was the guy who refused to get into the truck, preferring to hide out in the porty potty.

Speaking of corner workers, they are an amazing bunch. I already knew this having been involved in the SCCA for around 23 years and racing for 18 of them. Yet, every time I see them up close and in action, I'm always awed at just how remarkable they are. To stay out on the course, sometimes up to 12 hours a day, in searing heat, heavy rain, or blustery cold -- all three for this past weekend -- shows a dedication unequal in any sport.

They do, however, sometimes get lonely. When we dropped off food at Station 2, one of the female workers asked us to pass along a message to her fiance on Station 3. She wanted him to come down and pay her a visit.

One of the observations many of us drivers made was the logistical nightmare it is to put on one of these events. Just our portion of it -- transporting the workers, picking up the lunches and drinks from the food trailer, making sure they all get delivered properly, etc. -- is hard enough. Then to think that this sort of thing is going on in seemingly infinite other areas throughout the venue, it is amazing they can pull this off every week.

It certainly was a unique way to view a CART weekend. And enjoyable as well, except for the time that the CART Safety Team chastised us like little school children for parking our trucks 590 feet away from the first turn instead of 600 feet, or something silly like that. It appears the arrogance that many people accuse CART also permeates the Safety Team with their "We are God" attitude.

I also offer an apology for those in the paddock when we came barging through honking our horns demanding we make our through. We didn't mean to be obnoxious, but when the weekend schedule depended heavily on us getting out on the track and doing our thing, we had to be a little forceful.

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