I was watching the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday and realized that it had been over 3 years since I had last been to a racetrack. I started getting a little melancholy about what fun I had down at the Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront Airport.
A race in Cleveland was awesome for several reasons, but the track location was the true star. Burke is located right on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland. (It’s about 1/2 mile down from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, just to put things in perspective.) The airport was shut down Thursday night and was ready for racing on Friday morning. Because it was an airport, the track was completely flat, and you could see any corner of the track from the grandstands. It was also a nice view out to the water.
This was taken in 2006. You can see the sailboats out on the lake in the distance. In the six years I attended the race, no car ever ended up in the water, but there were rescue crews on hand just in case the unthinkable happened.
I miss it.
Really. I do.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that there’s two perfectly cromulent races up at Watkins Glen and in Toronto, why don’t you just attend those? That’s easy. It’s because it’s not the same. The drivers may be somewhat the same, but the cars & atmosphere are not.
– I miss the smell of methanol in the morning and picking tire grit out of your hair & ears for days after. (Current Indy Cars run on ethanol.)
– I miss riding down the 90 on Friday morning and hearing the hum of cars riding around Burke as soon as you entered the main downtown area.
– I miss the lovely hum of 20+ turbocharged engines heading towards turn one (and the inevitable carnage that would ensue from the fact that three cannot go where only one can).
I love this video because you can truly see how wide the track is and just how narrow it gets as they head into Turn 1. I think of the six years we attended the race, there was a clean start once.
– I miss the glorious pop of a pop off valve indicating that the driver was pushing the car to the max.
– I miss sitting in the stands having conversations with people you’ve never met before but you’re united in your love of racing, seeing those same people again next year and catching up. Not to mention meeting people you’ve met online through forums and discovering that they’re just as entertaining and wonderful in person as they are online (kind of like hockey fans).
– I miss being able to wander the paddock. Unlike NASCAR, where garage access is limited to the chosen few, in Cleveland, any fan with a ticket had garage access. You were able to step right up to the temporary garages (nothing more than awnings hanging from the team transporter) and watch the crew at work. All they asked was that you got out of the way when they brought the car in and out. No one cared that you were taking pictures (of course the super secret bits were under tarps), and the drivers would come out and sign autographs and pose for pictures when not on the track or in meetings. All that separated you from the team’s workspace was some bunting and a metal pole or two.
I think they were trying to put the kniffling pin into the connoculator valve.
– I miss being almost run over by Paul Newman in the paddock while he was toodling around on his scooter, stopping to chat with those few fans that recognized him. He did incognito very well.
– I miss watching the drivers clown around like idiots in the paddock, knowing that despite what happened on the track, they could get along off of it.
– I miss sitting in the stands before a race and watching drivers clowning around by shaking a port-a-loo relentlessly while a fellow driver was inside.
– I do not miss going through a metric ton of iced tea and water because it was so blessed hot in the stands (despite the wonderful lake breezes.)
– I miss the sunkissed glow that a weekend at the track gave me for the remainder of the summer (despite excellent sunscreen usage).
– I miss the ability to make the weekend truly a sporting dream by catching an Indians game.
– I miss the fact that the Cleveland police knew how to keep a goat rodeo from happening when the race fans were exiting E. 9th Street at one end and Indians fans exiting the Jake at the other end.
– I miss the pulled pork & sweet potato chips at Fat Fish Blue, and the truly awesome circular parking ramp next door to the restaurant.
– I miss there being sponsors other than Ethanol, Izod, Target, 7-11 & GoDaddy.
– I miss when it wasn’t all Danica, all the time.
– I miss having a Chief Steward that had the cojones to park an underperforming and/or misbehaving driver, not letting the almighty dollar dictate his actions.
I miss all of it. I want it back. I’m not getting it back. Current series management has not indicated that Cleveland is part of their long range plans for the series. It’s a damn shame, because it’s a fine track with a great racing history.