The Cleveland Circuit

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Rumors from varying perspectives flew around the past couple of weeks… and this past Friday it was confirmed – this year’s third Grand Prix of Baltimore, would indeed be the last. At least for now.

If you’ve been reading my contributions here on MTAF Wheels, you’ll know that my introductory column, was one of praise for the street circuit in Baltimore – even if it could have benefited from a few changes. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to see if any changes would have been implemented. It’s frustrating, especially since I was only able to attend the 2013 race and frankly, was looking forward to making it an annual tradition with my best friend. Personal connections as well as the combination of Baltimore lending its beauty to create such a picturesque street course, and getting a look at numbers that don’t lie (highest attendance yet for the race) make many fans, including myself, wonder why a race weekend outside of Labor Day, couldn’t be solidified for future seasons by IndyCar.

But rather than dwell on the politics and negotiations that we may never know the full story behind, I want to focus on something else. All of this talk got me thinking about other tracks we have lost from the IndyCar series. There is always one that comes into my mind immediately when reminiscing about seasons past… The Grand Prix of Cleveland.

Other than the Indy 500, this is the race that I remember the most as a kid. Maybe it’s the heat that I remember the most… either way, it was ten minutes from my house and one of my most favorite summer traditions from childhood. It was always such a rush to sit with my brother in the back of my Dad’s 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Classic, driving by Burke Lakefront Airport in the week approaching the event… pressing my nose against the window to try and get as unobstructed a view as I could of those bright silver bleachers going up. The bleachers I would nap on that following weekend, burning to the color of a ripe tomato regardless of how many layers of Coppertone Mom applied to my oh-so-fair skin. Even though the burn lasted for days and the peeling lasted for weeks… it was never enough to detour me from wanting to be there at the utterly shade-lacking airport with its unforgiving sunshine every summer as a kid.

As with most teenagers and young adults, life happens and for a multitude of reasons (some far beyond my control), I was unable to attend the last few years of the Cleveland race. There were rumors of the race returning to my hometown in 2012. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, these hopes never came to fruition and the idea of it seems to be fading with every passing season. I hear arguments for Kentucky Speedway and Road America now, more than anything else. But, whether it’s from my own personal bias because this is the city I love & call home, or it’s due to the nostalgia of it all… I really feel like IndyCar should reconsider racing in Cleveland in a (near) future season.

Hear me out. First off, whenever I make mention of the Grand Prix of CLE (catchy, isn’t it?) I get positive responses and usually the conversation goes in the direction of, “Why HAVEN’T they come back here?!” I mean yes, I understand the financial burden a city can take on by hosting a race of this caliber, but Cleveland “now”, is a far cry from Cleveland “then”. And in all honesty, if we invest in a football team year after year, that has yet to pay out any true economic returns to this city… what would the harm be to bringing back an open wheel race that used to sell 150,000 tickets over a 3-day weekend?

The idea of Cleveland “now” could easily play into those ticket sales and the marketing campaign could almost write itself. Potential ticket packages could combine admission to other establishments like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Science Center, or even tickets to an Indians game (the night before raceday, if the series & the city scheduled the weekend accordingly) – people would be lining up to attend the race weekend. This could be a mutually advantageous relationship between IndyCar and Cleveland – if they did it right. There are numerous local vendors that could partake in creating custom merchandise for the return of the race; multiple food trucks that could park right inside the track to provide an array of quality and tantalizing options to the race attendees, staff, volunteers and drivers alike; dozens of restaurants that could host events leading up to the race as well as during race weekend… possibly even catering at the team chalets in the paddock! Cleveland also has upscale hotels (some already in operation, some under construction and opening soon) ready to provide the level of hospitality that IndyCar teams and fans expect & desire over a tiring weekend. And for those looking for nightlife options before crashing at their swanky hotel, downtown Cleveland offers plenty of options! From trying your hand at blackjack at Horseshoe Casino to bowling a few frames w friends at Corner Alley on E. 4th St, to dancing the night away on W. 6th St as you embrace your youth… or maybe just attempt to reconnect to it. And lest we not forget, the East Bank of the Flats will be up and running sooner than we can imagine, offering even more dining and entertainment options.

Outside all of the reasons that the city of Cleveland seems ready to host the Grand Prix again, we have to simply remember how incredible the course itself was!

Oval? No.
Road Course? No.
Street Circuit? No.

Airport? Yes. Airport.

You have to admit, that’s kind of awesome considering that we actually had a corner dubbed “the vortex”, not to mention that the DW12 has something in common with the equipment that usually occupies that patch of land. Well, maybe a couple things, actually – speed, G forces and serious adrenaline for operator AND spectator! In fact, in August 2012, Dario Franchitti was quoted in Road & Track as saying,

“Remember, you can’t breathe above a certain number of G forces, so you get into the corner and brace yourself like a fighter pilot does when he’s making a hard turn.”

In this particular article, Dario was discussing racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Fitting, I think, as Mid-Ohio is currently the only track IndyCar visits in our lovely Buckeye state. Given that, I think it’s time to add one more track to good old O-H… I-O! It’s time to bring back that legendary Grand Prix along Lake Erie. Can you see it?

Sail boats on the shore, downtown Cleveland’s skyline as the backdrop, tourists & locals alike reconnecting with or maybe just discovering their love of IndyCar racing… a challenging track with plenty of opportunities for passing, a course location unlike any other in the series, and a city in the midst of its most thriving decade in generations. Now, if that doesn’t spell a successful and insanely entertaining race weekend experience, I don’t know what does.

Paul Tracy GPofCLE 1994

1 comments on “The Cleveland Circuit”

  1. Shay,

    I really like the article.

    One problem, have you driven by Burke recently? It looks like a sand box, which makes me worry about a 2014 race.

    I haven’t seen a map of the improvements to the airport but I know from various CLE News websites that 400ft of “collapsible concrete” (non-raceworthy surface) is being installed as well as additional taxiways… additional taxiways potentially means new track configurations?

    I would love to see the Grand Prix of Cleveland resurrected. Great to see someone writing and putting this out there.

    (… and … how would it feel to take something from Baltimore?!)

    Matt

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