The U.S. has some of the greatest motor racing circuits in the world. Some of the best being Watkins Glen, Road America and Laguna Seca, but there have also been a number of forgettable ones. We look back at a number of circuits that didn’t manage to capture what we love about motorsports.
Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
There were a number of attempts to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix on the streets of various U.S. cities in the 1980s. Long Beach was a success but races organized in Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Las Vegas just didn’t work. F1 ran two Grands Prix in 1981 and 1982 in the car park of Caesars Palace hotel and casino complex in Las Vegas and it didn’t quite seem appropriate that this mad, bad, bumpy street circuit should be the home of the world championship showdown. Things got worse when the CART/Indycar series took over in 1983. The teams, used to racing on ovals, arrived at the same car park track which just used the perimeter roads – to form an oval shape. The corners of the 2.27-mile road course were rounded off to create a new five-corner 1.13-mile oval. None of the corners were banked and the average top speed of the lap was less than 100 mph.
Fair Park, Dallas
F1 visited the 2.42-mile Fair Park street circuit, just once, in the first week of July 1984. The date should have set alarm bells ringing. Set around the Texas State Fair Grounds with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the temporary track surface started bubbling up during Friday practice and broke up a number of times over the weekend. In fact Goodyear recorded one of their highest ever track temperatures – a whopping 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Race day morning warm-up commenced at 7 a.m. to avoid the heat, but it was so early that Frenchman Jacques Laffite arrived at the track in his pajamas. Even then, the warm-up was cancelled because workers had been relaying the track surface all night.
When the GP was finally flagged away by Larry Hagman, many drivers struggled in the searing heat and the race became one of high attrition. Keke Rosberg won, wearing a special cooling helmet, while Nigel Mansell’s Lotus’s gearbox failed in the closing stages and he memorably collapsed while trying to push his car across the finish line. “What possessed F1 to go to Dallas in July I don’t know,” said former US F1 driver Eddie Cheever. “Only a foreigner would choose that date.”
Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland
In the U.K., a lot of the older racing circuits are converted World War II airfields, with the track making up parts of runways and perimeter roads, such as Silverstone – the home of the British GP. In the U.S., the Cleveland CART race was the only track at the time that used the runways of an active airport. Although the race was actually a commercial success running from 1982 until 2007, the problem was the concrete nature of the surface which was designed for aircraft and not ultra-lightweight racing cars. As a result the track was incredibly bumpy and demanding for both cars and drivers. Cleveland’s airport circuit had one truly unique feature: given the enormously wide runway, the entrance to Turn 1 could be taken by more than one line offering an unusual amount of overtaking opportunities. Turn 1 was known as the ‘vortex’ as drivers would start the race six or seven cars abreast before feeding into the tight right-hander – a number of drivers getting ‘sucked’ into each other and not making it further than the first corner of the race. Subsequent restarts would result in more crashes and more restarts.
This was another ‘roval’ that didn’t quite live up to the expectation of being a good road circuit or a good oval. The organisers of the Grand-Am road racing series decided to join the bill of a bike racing event at Iowa in 2007 – and they would never return. Iowa’s road course incorporates a lot of the oval, but it’s a six-corner 1.31-mile track that has a tiny in-field section. Unfortunately, that’s about all it has. The first section had very fast g-loadings then the latter section had first and second gear ‘Mickey Mouse’ corners and there was nothing else. “It was like driving on a parking lot,” said one driver. Worse comments were made by a Grand-Am team owner who criticized the series for going to the venue. He was fined $1,000 for his ‘inappropriate’ views, which was donated to a children’s charity. Grand-Am never returned to Iowa.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis is arguably one of the greatest venues in the world. It is the self-proclaimed ‘Capital of Auto Racing.’ It has 250,000 seats making it the largest spectator venue on the planet. It has a history of over 100 years, four of the most awesome corners on any circuit and host to one of the most exciting motor sport events of the year. So what did Formula 1 do when it came to race at Indy between 2000 and 2007? It completely ignored the oval and decided it was best to drive the wrong way around into a low speed 2.67-mile infield course. The awesome Turn 1, became the only banked section of the track to be used and it was the final corner which F1 cars accelerated through, rather than lifting to enter. To prove how little F1 respected the place, world champion Michael Schumacher enquired whether the famous line of bricks could be ‘smoothed’ down to help his getaway from pole position one year. When Michelin’s tires failed at the 2005 race, it led to a six-car farce and summed up the poor relationship the sport had with Indy. Since 2007, F1 hasn’t been back.