Friday, May 9, 2014

This is what American Open-wheel racing has become

5 guys just kind of sitting there watching the grass grow

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Injuries in the stands at Daytona Nationwide Race

( 2-23-13)

Debris flew into the stands, injuring a number of spectators -- at least two of them critically -- during a jaw-dropping crash Saturday in the final turn of a NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway.

The multicar crash occurred near the end of the Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 race at the same Florida track where Sunday's Daytona 500 will be held.

The race had recently restarted after another wreck, after which driver Michael Annett was hospitalized for bruising to his chest, according to Richard Petty Motorsports.

Several closely-packed cars were jostling for position at top speed when they got tangled up, setting off a dangerous chain reaction that ensnared a number of vehicles.

Reigning Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski -- who later told CNN he and others were simply "going for the win" -- was among those involved, while Tony Stewart somehow emerged unscathed and finished by winning the race.

Driver Kyle Larson's vehicle ended up flying into a fence that separates the track from spectators. It broke into pieces -- including tires and a fiery engine.

Larson walked away from the crash, even after the front part of his No. 32 car was completely gone. He and the other nine drivers involved told reporters that they were checked at a medical tent on the Daytona infield and released.

Some of the shredded debris flew into the barrier, while others got into the stands -- some of it reaching the second level about 20 feet up.

A video posted on YouTube shows a cloud of debris flying into stands and one man gasping, "Oh, my God." A tire rests on one seat, as a man frantically waves and yells to get the attention of paramedics.

Afterward, several spectators could be seen lying down after apparently suffering injuries. A line of about 10 ambulances lined up on the track, with some first responders carrying stretchers.

Fourteen fans were treated at an on-site medical facility, while 14 others were transported to area hospitals, speedway president Joie Chitwood told reporters.

"I'm just hoping everyone is OK," said Keselowski. "As drivers, we assume the risk. But fans do not."

NASCAR president Mike Helton earlier told ESPN, which was broadcasting the race, some people were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center. He said the protective fence did its job in preventing potentially more injuries and possibly deaths.

Byron Cogdell, a spokesman for the hospital, told CNN that his facility was treating 12 patients. Two of those -- one of them a child -- are in critical but stable condition.

"Everybody appears to be in stable condition," Cogdell said.

Staff at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center were treating one person and expecting three more, spokeswoman Lindsay Rew said Saturday evening.

The injured include Eddie Huckaby, a 53-year-old Krum, Texas, resident who suffered a leg gash when a large piece of metal hit him as he was watching the race, his brother Terry Huckaby told CNN affiliate WKMG. He described the motor landing in the stands, as well as a wheel "and everything flying over your head and debris everywhere."

"He's doing fine," Terry Huckaby said of his brother, who underwent surgery at Halifax Health Medical Center. "The first thing he said, 'I don't want to miss that (Daytona 500) race, but I have to watch on TV.'"

Accidents are nothing new to NASCAR, where cars often cruise at speeds topping 190 mph, nor to the Daytona track. One of the sport's most horrific, and well-known, wrecks happened in the 2001 Daytona 500, when famed driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed -- also, on that race's final lap.

Still, injuries and fatalities to spectators are much rarer.

With the stands having been quickly evacuated, crews worked to repair the damaged fence. Chitwood expressed confidence the 55th edition of the Daytona 500 would go on as planned, with spectators even sitting in the same seats struck by debris Saturday.

"With the fence being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes," Chitwood said.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Does Formula 1 racing have a chance to succeed in America?

(by Tim Tuttle 12-26-12)

Watkins Glen International owns the distinction of the longest running home to Formula One in the United States, hosting 20 races from 1961 to 1980. The Long Beach Grand Prix, hosting eight from 1976 to 1983, ranks second. Even the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on a road course carved out of the infield and incorporating part of the oval, only held seven races. Six other tracks have tried making a go of F1 in the USA, but they all ended because of the high price of doing business with the world's most popular racing series.

With all that history against it, does the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, really have a chance to successfully fulfill its 10-year contract with F1?

Yes and, perhaps, beyond. COTA has some things going for it that other promoters and tracks have not. The inaugural event -- the U.S. Grad Prix held Nov. 16-18 -- was a smashing success; but so was the first USGP held at Indianapolis in 2000. Prior to that first race in Indy, F1 had not raced in the U.S. since 1992. Indy had an estimated 200,000 spectators that initial race day, 150,000 the second and third and was down to 125,000 after that. According to sources, Indy made money for the first three years, lost in the last four. There's clearly a novelty effect that wears off.

It should be noted that Indy had some bad luck on the track. In 2002, Michael Schumacher pulled over nearing the finish line on the front straight on the last lap and allowed Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello to win, damaging the race's credibility with ticket buyers. Sources say it did more harm than the tire fiasco in 2005 (Michelin's teams withdrew following the warm-up laps and only six cars ran the race).

COTA had a capacity crowd 117,429 on race day, 82,710 for qualifying and 65,360 for practice, bringing in substantial revenue from suite, hospitality and sponsorship sales. All good, but what delivers the difference between profitability and loss is funds from the Texas Event Trust Fund. Essentially, COTA has to earn the money each year based upon the economic impact created. COTA received a check for $29.3 million for this year's event.

"The government relationship is the most critical to keeping the race long term," Zak Brown, the Just Marketing International CEO and an F1 expert, said. "The difference in making money and not making money is the state funding. Any F1 race requires in a government subsidy."

NFL, NBA and MLB teams have frequently received funding from cities for new stadiums and other sweetheart deals. It has happened rarely in auto racing and never at the level of support for COTA's F1 event.

"The major difference between arenas and stadiums is that we're only rewarded by incremental increases in sales tax," COT President Steve Sexton explained. "It's generated by whatever is brought in is paid back to offset costs.

"The state's participation through the Major Events Trust Fund is very, very important. F1 is very expensive. The state of Texas has established the fund and it enables entities to apply for major events. It's the reason the Super Bowl was in Dallas and why the Final Four has been in Houston. It's an incentive rewarded by economic impact."

COTA doesn't disclose the amount it pays for its F1 race, but industry sources put the fee at about $25 million per year. However COTA has to consistently bring in a substantial crowd that can create an economic impact that will keep state funding at a high level. There are no guarantees from the trust fund. But Brown expects the event to grow in popularity after an impressive inaugural.

"It exceeded my expectations, exceeded everyone's expectations," Brown said. "Absolutely thumbs up. I can't think of a single thing they did wrong. They pulled it off. People were nervous about traffic, congestion. They executed the logistics of the event extremely well. [...] It was a major home run, exactly what F1 in America needed, to get a strong start to building for a great year two, which I think they'll have."

Sexton says he's building a happening rather than a race. It's an approach typically used for street races rather than permanent circuits. COTA is unique, that it's the first facility purposely built for F1 in America: a glistening, beautiful track designed by the famed Herman Tilke. It has the amenities of a street circuit to appeal to the casual fan and a track with the visibility and technical racing aspects for the aficionado.

"We had a fantastic launch and it's a great springboard for the future," Sexton said. "First, we realize this is a springboard we define as an experience like fans have at the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl. One of our major goals is to have a spectacular event, one that is about glamour and style where they can see celebrities and famous athletes. We want to attract the casual fan who wants to be part of something special, to be part of a major international event."

Brown says there are elements in place to attract racing fans, too. NBC becomes the F1 broadcaster in the USA next season and it has plans to put at least four events on the over-air network. It also will provide programming to the NBC Sports Network.

"They're going to do more network and more programming," Brown said. "Formula One and IndyCar are on the same [cable] channel and that's a good thing, too."

Sexton added, "NBC has an active interest in elevating F1 and our event. It's not unlike what they've done with the Olympics and Kentucky Derby. It will help sustain our event from a marketing standpoint."

Currently, there are no American drivers in F1, but Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, Calif., has well up the development ladder. He was a F1 test driver for Caterham and drove for the team World Series by Renault this season, his second year in the series. Rossi won't be in F1 in 2013, but he could be by 2014.

"I think it's important to have an American in F1, but it's not critical, "Brown said. "All the sports these days are pretty international and diverse, but it would be nice to have an American in F1."

Sexton says an Amercan driver "would be very, very positive" for Americans following F1. Both he and Brown agree that Mexico's Sergio Perez, who drove for Sauber in 2012 and is moving to McLaren next season, has appeal to Hispanics in North America.

"Without question, Sergio had a very positive impact on this year's race," Sexton said. "Fifteen percent of our ticket sales were form Mexico. The fact he call us is home track is beneficial."

"Sergio Perez will be higher profile with McLaren and the Hispanic market is something very attractive in sponsors," Brown said.

Brown also believes the parity in F1 will keep fans coming back.

"When F1 was at Indy, the racing was boring," Brown said. "There were only two or maybe three teams who could win. There were eight drivers from five teams who won this season. You've got great racing now. That's a big difference."

Can F1 thrive rather than just survive at COTA?

"There's as much going for Formula One in America as there has been in recent memory," Brown said. "How big will it get, I don't know, but the race at Austin this year started building a bigger following in America than it has ever had."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time for Formula One, Texas style

(by Terry Blount 11-16-12)

Country music, beef brisket, cowboy boots, Tex-Mex, the Lone Star flag and Longhorns football.

Meet skinny jeans, caviar, French fries with mayo, funny accents (that don't speak Texan), fascinators and Ferrari flags.

Oh my. Austin never will be the same.

Formula One, the highfalutin auto racing sport of the world, comes to Texas this weekend, the state of big egos, big football (the kind with helmets and a funny-shaped ball), big hair and big, well, almost everything.

As a Texas boy myself, I can tell you this is a convergence zone of cultures and lifestyles that could rock old Sam Houston right out of his coffin. It's the Monaco elite taking a ride on Bevo; Willie Nelson hugging Sir Jackie Stewart.

Austin has gone ostentatious. Lord, help us.

An event three years in the making, one I didn't believe would actually happen, will take place Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas, a 3.4-mile road course and state-of-the-art racing facility about 15 miles southwest of downtown Austin.

A reported $300 million has been invested in building the place, most of it coming from Texas billionaire Red McCombs, the founder of Clear Channel Communications and a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Vikings.

The state of Texas also is contributing $25 million a year to the F1 coffers, a sore point to some Texans, who feel it's a big waste of taxpayer money.

We'll see. I can almost guarantee more than $25 million will pour into the Austin area hotels, restaurants and 6th Street nightclubs. Some hotels in Austin are charging more than $600 a night.

Race officials are expecting a crowd of 115,000 on Sunday. By comparison, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial stadium, a virtual state shrine, has 100,119 seats.

More than 70 percent of the F1 ticket holders are coming from outside of Texas, including more than 20,000 from other countries.

Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas, believes those numbers prove it's well worth the investment.

"This is like having a Super Bowl here," Sexton told the Austin American-Statesman. "It's like having a Super Bowl here every year for the next 10 years."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Only once in its history has Formula One spent 10 years at one U.S. location, and that was more than 30 years ago. F1 raced at Watkins Glen, NY, from 1961 to 1980. None of the other eight U.S. locations where F1 has raced lasted 10 years, including Indianapolis, the most recent U.S. venue for the series.

F1 raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for eight years (2000-07), so this is the first event in the U.S. for F1 in five years.

The Indy event was a clear success early on, when more than 150,000 people attended the first two races. But the interest waned, and any chance of long-term viability was destroyed when only six cars raced in 2005. Tire problems caused the Michelin teams to withdraw. Fans were furious, and the Indy event never recovered.

Now F1 is trying again at the most unlikely of places. Maybe opposites will attract and Texans will fall in love with this style of open-wheel racing.

"My wife and I have been big fans of the USA, and also of Texas, for many years," said seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher, who once visited Texas Motor Speedway and drove on the track incognito. "I'm particularly looking forward to the race in Austin. I'm excited to see if the American fans will embrace our sport. I think we'll put on a good show.''

It helps that F1 has a close points battle for the 2012 championship with two races remaining. Germany's Sebastian Vettel is trying to win his third consecutive F1 title. He leads Spaniard Fernando Alonso by only 10 points.

This is F1's second time in Texas. It raced in Dallas in 1984, but that was a poorly conceived street course without the support and infrastructure needed to become successful.

Circuit of the Americas is the first purpose-built facility for F1 in the U.S. It appears to have the things it needs to succeed -- big-money backers, a luxurious facility, and the city in Texas best-known for its diversity and progressive ideals. Austinites tend to be open-minded folks.

However, there are plenty of doubters who think this is a passing fancy that has little chance of working over the long haul.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is one of them. Two weeks ago, during the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Smith made his feelings clear.

"Formula One never has done anything in this country,'' Smith said. "It never has worked."

That's an overstatement, which isn't anything new for Smith. But it's true that Formula One has had nothing more than mercenary status in the U.S. for a long time. F1 -- and its longtime boss, Bernie Ecclestone -- gets its money up front, rides the wave and moves on when things die out.

"I have no doubt that the event will be very successful in its first year,'' said TMS president Eddie Gossage. "But the key point is whether it can sustain that success. That's a much more difficult thing to do."

First-time events of this magnitude often have logistical issues. The Circuit of the Americas venue has rural road access and limited parking space. More than 400 shuttle buses will be used across Austin to get fans to and from the race.

A running event on the track two weeks ago had major traffic problems, with some runners waiting in gridlock for more than 90 minutes to get to the track. That was only 5,000 people. How will that work Sunday with more than 100,000 showing up?

And first impressions are important. Everyone involved, from city and track officials to F1 sponsors and teams, has done everything possible to build interest and make the entire week one big Austin party.

Austin is known for its live music scene, and free concerts are planned on Congress Street every night this weekend.

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to the U.S., and his wife, Lady Westmacott, are hosting a reception for dignitaries and the media.

Stewart, a three-time F1 champ, will attend. I wonder whether Sir Jackie, known as the Flying Scot, owns any cowboy boots?

Austin is in the international spotlight this weekend. The capital of the Lone Star State dances with Formula One. Now that's what I call a Texas two-step.