A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Detroit

10 June 1998


On Wednesday last week I left the warm weather of Florida with the
intent of a final destination of Detroit, Michigan for the FED-EX CART
CHAMPIONSHIP.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control,
I did not make it to Detroit. A detour trip to the east coast was
required.

Rather than whine and pout about missing the event I decided to look
upon my amazing good fortune. On this particular week-end five major
races were scheduled: Le Mans, NASCAR at Richmond, IRL at Forth-Worth,
Formula One in Montreal and finally CART in Detroit.

With the help of an old family friend, who, by the way, is just as
fanatical about motorsports, I was presented the alternative of
utilizing the wonderful tools of technology. Specifically, true
satellite television. My friend's house, aside from being a beautiful
place to stay, also came equipped with a purpose-built television
viewing room. Watching motorsports on a large format screen with
stereo surround sound is the only way. It was better than any movie
house and besides access to food and adult beverages was
available. When's the last time you watched a movie while sipping a
glass of Merlot while nibbling on canapes?

On Saturday morning, 7:00 am to be exact, with the satellite dish
pointed toward the heavens, the image of sportscars gridding at Le Mans
filled the over-sized screen.  The stereo surround sound provided the
right amount of foreground commentary and background noise to make you
feel as if you were right in the middle of the show. The pageantry of
the world's best known sportscar endurance race was a sight to
behold. After a few hours of viewing the race from France, a break was
needed before returning to check up on the status of the various
leaders plus two more races (NASCAR at Richmond, VA and IRL at Fort
Worth,TX) were in store for Saturday evening.

The NASCAR race was it's usual short-track bumping and grinding. For
Jeff Gordon, it was "paybacks are hell" time when Rusty Wallace
"bumped" his car into the second turn wall.  Gordon's retort in a pit
area interview was restrained, but you could feel the expletives just
below the surface, ready to explode. All Gordon needs to do is go to
the videotape of the spring race at Bristol last year. Enough
said. Oh, by the way, Terry Labonte was the eventual winner in another
bump and grind incident with Dale Jarrett.

The IRL race was particularly interesting. A lot of criticism (some
worthy, some not) has been dumped on the IRL. None the less, the
speeds that these guys were attaining was incredible in any
league. Granted only a few of the drivers are household names, but it
still requires a very brave person to mash his foot to the floor and
hold it there. AJ Foyt's driver Billy Boat eventually won but not
before he and native Texan-Greg Ray put on a spectacular show. Unlike
last year's fiasco (the boxing match in victory circle), this year's
version was every bit as good as any of the CART oval races in recent
memory. A news flash for the CART purists. The IRL is here to stay. I
did not like Tony George's method of breaking away, but he has the
pocketbook to last and if they keep putting on shows like the one in
Fort-Worth the series will survive.

The next morning, 6:00am to be exact, a return to Le Mans. It looked
like Toyota was going to attain it's first-ever over-all win at the
Sarthe Cicuit. However, it was not to be when the gearbox went south
with 90 minutes left in the race. This left the surviving Porsche
GT-1's to sweep the first two spots. The victory was Porsche's third
in a row at Le Mans.

Taking another break was mandatory before getting ready for the
Canadian Grand Prix. TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN, does a
particularly outstanding job of pre-race coverage. A full-hour is
dedicated to the week-end plus discussions of the rest of the
season. The race was eventually won by Michael Schumacher, but not
before a re-start that was required after a multi-car incident in the
first turn. Schumacher, in the post-race interview was quick to
criticize Damon Hill for some blocking maneuvers. Schumacher, like
Jeff Gordon, is another candidate for the video-tape machine. He
punted Frentzen into the weeds in turn one. Blasting out of the pits,
Schumacher seemed to care less who was in his way. None the less, the
FIA officials, instead of assessing a major penalty, looked the other
way. No doubt if the same maneuver had been performed by a lesser name
a full-race penalty would have been assessed

The last race of the week-end was the CART race from Detroit. What
looked so promising on paper turned out to be the most boring of all
five races. Alex Zanardi, in his usual aggressive driving style,
grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Greg Moore and never looked
back. Granted Zanardi benefited from a poor pit-stop by Moore's pit
crew but the drama of a nail-biting finish never materialized. Perhaps
we were all spoiled by the high-drama of the previous years' race at
Detroit. None the less, the race was more processional than any CART
race in recent memory.

Five races in thirty-six hours, what a week-end! My next stop is to
see how much a real-satellite system costs and what about one of those
viewing rooms with surround-sound. Well, ok how about four good
speakers and a 30 inch television? You've got to start somewhere.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel

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