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Published: Monday, 6/18/2001

Detroit Grand Prix notebook: Small crowd helps cloud race future

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - The future of the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle remains in doubt, following yesterday's race before a small crowd generously estimated at 44,000.

A joint release issued by Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, International Management Group (IMG) Motorsports president Bud Stanner and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) chairman and CEO Joe Heitzler, was handed out after the race yesterday.

“We met earlier today for one hour to discuss the future of the race,” it said. “We each left that meeting feeling that it was a productive and positive exchange of ideas regarding the future of the event.

“As we have said before, the race must make business sense for IMG, CART and the city. Over the new few weeks, we will further examine the alternatives and will be getting together again soon to further discuss those options.

“Each of us is confident there are alternatives that can work for all of us. We must now thoroughly examine and research those opportunities and determine what is in our collective best interest.”

Those options include possibly moving the race back to the downtown Detroit streets where it resided for 10 years before being pushed to Belle Isle in 1992 because of downtown construction.

The state fairgrounds inside the Detroit city limits is another possibility, but that has already been rebuked once.

There's also the possibility that IMG and the city will decide on a new sanctioning body such as NASCAR's American Grand Le Mans Series.

A total weekend attendance of 107,000 was announced as compared to last year's 138,000. The race-day Detroit Grand Prix record attendance is 62,000, established in 1994.

ABRUPT ENDING: Actress Ashley Judd, fiancee of Team Kool Green driver Dario Franchitti, had an eventful experience in the Celebrity Team Challenge yesterday on Belle Isle.

The rear passenger door on her Dodge Neon unlatched and would swing open onthe left-hand turns, then close when she turned right. Three laps from the finish, she crashed into a tire barrier.

“Now I am devastated because I didn't realize that I could keep racing once my car hit the tire barrier,” Judd said. “Because the engine shut off I thought the whole thing was disabled. Next thing I know, a race official said, `Go start your car.' I said I didn't know it could start.

“I'm used to being able to learn something quickly and make it look brilliant on a film. In driving, all my emotions get involved and I start to lose confidence, but it's an exceptional sport. It requires so much talent that is so elusive. I have nothing but admiration for the folks that do it well.”

LATE SHOW EXPOSURE: CART will have quite a presence on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman, this week.

Kenny Brack will play the guitar with Paul Shaffer's band during tomorrow night's show. Brack, who finished eighth, is the CART points leader.

Late Show personality Biff Henderson, who has been sent to the Super Bowl and World Series for the program, was in Detroit over the weekend with a production crew to create a segment that will air sometime this week.

HIGH-TECH ADS: One of the rolling billboards in Detroit found a new spot to promote a sponsor.

Newman-Haas Racing unveiled WheelFx, which uses LEDs to display messages and sponsor logos on the wheels of Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta's Lolas.

ON THE LEVEL: Matt Plumb, of Unionville, Pa., won the Barber Dodge Pro Series support race here yesterday, leading from start to finish.

RACE VICTIM: There was a rodent in the road, but not for long.

Gil de Ferran hit a squirrel during a practice session yesterday morning. The animal becoming road-kill when it got sucked into the air scoop of de Ferran's race car.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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