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Friday, October 31, 2014
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Published: Friday, 6/16/2000

Detroit Grand Prix still needs a good home

So where do we park the Detroit Grand Prix now?

The Motor City can't seem to find a permanent location to accentuate its designation.

We started with the downtown street course in 1982, attracting the Formula One circus, but those drivers soon grew tired of the 80 mile-per-hour speeds in their highly-sophisticated machinery. The narrow streets, surrounded by imposing concrete barriers, the slippery man-hole covers and the potholes were mainstays on their lengthy list of grievances.

It was a parade route. As a race it was Prix-posterous.

Beneton Ford driver Thierry Boutsen said, "For most of the drivers this is their least favorite track. We have the best cars in the world on the worst circuit."

One Formula One team referred to the Detroit stop on their 16-race international circuit as De-Toilet. It was considered the Edsel of international motor racing, and in 1988 Formula One motored out of the Motor City.

Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) presented a much less expensive package and became the new tenant on the 2.5-mile course that wound around the handsome Renaissance Center and along the Detroit River, which actually looked blue from the camera located in the Goodyear blimp.

The ambience was flavorful, but CART drivers too were not enthused about average speeds that were the norm on I-94.

Motown became notown, nowhere to be found on the 1991 CART schedule announced in September of 1990. A month after it was canceled it was reinstated with a one-year contract.

Downtown construction squeezed out the course and forced a move, this time to an island the Indians originally called Wah-ne-be-see, or White Swan. It would soon become a white elephant.

Or "a dump," as former CART driver Scott Pruett said recently.

Before the race could be dumped on Belle Isle in 1992, a race car capable of revving to 112 decibels had to test how the noise from a race would affect the animals at the Belle Isle Zoo.

The hyenas didn't find it a laughing matter, the cheetahs said they were much faster and the hippos got hyper, but the race prevailed.

Michael Andretti, a Detroit Grand Prix winner in 1990 an'96, once reportedly described the Belle Isle course as being "Mickey Mouse."

The park that accommodates the race provides a road-course circuit that is too twisting, too narrow and leaves little or no room to pass. When it rains, Belle Isle becomes Belle muck.

"It was very difficult to pass and not user-friendly," added Pruett, now a rookie on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. "It was not the essence of the Motor City in having high-tech, performance race cars come to town. It was still follow the leader, with whoever was the luckiest on the pit stops and who got the best fuel mileage."

It's not unusual for drivers to complain about the lack of passing on a road course. It comes with the serpentine territory.

It's interesting how current CART drivers are attempting to defend the course as they prepare for Sunday's race, with qualifying beginning this afternoon. The course was made slightly more doable two years ago with the addition of a one-quarter-mile straightaway to promote more passing.

CART was again ready to drop the Detroit Grand Prix after this year, but then renewed its contract through next year.

It appears the Detroit Grand Prix is ready to pick up and move again, this time to the Michigan State Fairgrounds starting in 2002. But a political flap is in full gear between Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and Gov. John Engler.

Again, it includes decibels, this time how the noise might affect humans.

The mayor objects because many of his financial supporters live in the affluent Palmer Woods neighborhood that borders part of the fairgrounds property, which is otherwise located in an inner-city environment.

Engler is vigorously backing the proposed $80 million development, which would include a one-mile oval track along with a road course.

The Motor City wants a motor race. The automobile manufacturers feel it's pertinent for their industry. But finding a venue to showcase their vehicles hasn't been easy.

What's up with Tiger Stadium?



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