Watkins Glen, N.Y., July 6 — As the 4th of July weekend approached, I soon realized that I would be quite busy on Friday (cleaning and waxing my wife’s car, sweeping the garage, mowing the lawn) and Sunday (our nephew was arriving to spend the week with us). However, on Saturday, the day was going to be bare. Nothing to do. The Devil began his work.
Before I knew what overcame me, I was driving down to Watkins Glen—all the way to the track itself—during an IRL weekend. Now before anyone gets carried away with this bit of news, let me state a few caveats: I did not get a press pass (as I have banned anyone from acquiring press credentials in the name of Deep Throttle for an IRL only event), I did not go for the racing, and my main purpose was to see friends who were going to be there.
Thus, I got in by volunteering to work the International Motor Racing Research Center booth for a shift (even bought a couple of raffle tickets for the Shelby Cobra replicar). When I parked my car outside of Turn 1, the farting bees just started their practice session.
You may as well have stuck a knitting needle into my ear drum and let the blood trickle down my neck right then and there. Without seeing the cars, I thought I was at a Trans-Am race, not a proper sounding open wheel event.
Due to the fact I have to cross a bridge to get to the infield, I had no choice but to witness the flying billboards on track. Admittedly, I stuck around to watch a few laps. Admittedly, they aren't quite as ugly in person as I had expected, but ugly they are nonetheless. They are still quite capable of breaking camera lenses. Or, to put it in better words—it just didn't thrill me to see them on the track.
That was the extent of watching the IRL cars. Except for the ones which were dangling on a hook that went by our booth after crashing in qualifying. Interesting how every single one of them had rear end damage...
After the practice session, the Historic Grand Prix group ran a race. This was more like it! Sure, some of these cars were loud, but not obnoxiously loud. Loud in the way a top flight open wheel race car should be, whether normally aspirated or turbo. And the lines. Oh, the lines on these beauties were exactly what the eye doctor ordered.
I did go out of my way to watch the Indy Lights race. I had no preconceived notions about this series other than it has never really produced any talent worth speaking about. There were some names known to Champ Car fans in the field (Raphael Matos, Franck Perera, J.R. Hildebrand, and Matt Lee). I sat in the grandstands outside Turn 1. I didn't sit for long.
These cars, too, were obscenely noisy and not very good looking. However, unlike the IRL cars, they weren't even close to displaying any speed worthy of their racket. A typical case of all bark and no bite. An Atlantic car is so much nicer, nimbler, and competitive. Seemingly, every other lap someone went off causing a much too long full course yellow. After bravely (or stupidly) sitting through two such incidents, I went and got, appropriately, a hot dog.
Ultimately, I'm a consumer. Ultimately, I decide what I want to buy or not. I cannot be made to purchase something “kicking and screaming.” The IRL is simply a product I don't wish to buy. I thought I might still get that tingling feeling in my gut once I got to the track and heard the cars. I did not. I thought I might get back into caring for the drivers or teams once I saw the cars running laps. I did not. I thought I might get the urge to start writing about racing when I toured the new press center and talked with my fellow writers. I did not. None of those feelings I got at a Champ Car event ever came back despite being right there plopped in the midst of a racing event.
To quote another person in a similar situation as me, "I just can't get into this."
What makes it even more appalling is the track we were at. There are many fine tracks in America besides Watkins Glen such as Road America, Laguna Seca, Sebring, Mid-Ohio. You can say whatever you want about your favorite track compared to Watkins Glen.
However, there is no track ... none whatsoever ... which is more synonymous with American open wheel road racing than Watkins Glen. If that track, that setting, that history and pedigree, a track that is virtually in my backyard, a track where I have raced countless laps on cannot get me excited to see an open wheel racing series, then nothing will.
All was not lost as my main purpose for the venture into the Finger Lakes was a great success. I saw Eric Mauk for the first time since Long Beach last year just before he left Champ Car to work for Team Rahal. I said hello to Katie Brannan, the fabulous PR rep for Pacific Coast Motorsports. I had an all too brief discussion with Michael Cannon, Lead Engineer for HVM Racing. For a bonus, while waiting for Cannon, we spoke with rideless Dan Clarke.
Afterwards, I had drinks and dinner at the historic Seneca Lodge with fellow Deep Throttle refugee, Angelo Lisuzzo, the always lovely Meesh, and Australian reporter Gary McDonald. It was a wonderful evening of race stories and laughs.
I suppose the pain and sadness of seeing the reality of what American open wheel racing has become with my own eyes was offset with the friends I met.
I did learn one thing Saturday. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.
May God have mercy on my soul.
Copyright © 2008 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.