The month of May. A phrase that means a lot to the racing fraternity here in the USA. It means the Indianapolis 500 and, for me, the first event in our new Legends of Motorsports series of historic races that I’ve been putting together for the last year or so. So yeah, it’s been a pretty hectic time.
Starting with the historic races at the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, I’m pleased and relieved to report that it was a big success, with just under 100 cars in the paddock. We had a decent crowd and the drivers said it was one of the best race weekends they’d ever been to, so that was pleasing. Sure, we’d like to get more spectators, but it takes time and I think that word of mouth will be our most powerful promotion. You can advertise all you like but if the drivers and the fans love the events, then the word will spread to a whole lot more people.
The best fun of all was the ‘street rally’ we did the night before the races. We took a bunch of racing cars along public highways to a little place called Mountainbrook, where about 5000 people turned out to see the cars and drivers roar into town. I drove a Can-Am McLaren through the lanes and villages, making lots of noise. That was pretty cool. OK, it was tough to do more than 60mph on ordinary paved roads, but hey, that was really something. It’s good to take the sport to the people and they sure don’t see that kind of show in the heart of Dixie too often.
By the time you read this we will have been to Watkins Glen, where we are expecting a much bigger crowd. It’s such a wonderful circuit, and word will get around. The Monterey weekend has been going for over 30 years now, but when they started it took time to build it up. What’s important is that we do a great job, put on exciting races, and the rest will come.
At the end of the month we had the Indy 500. Well, what can you say? Another huge event, and the crowd for the 94th running was the biggest we’d seen in a long time. In the end Dario Franchitti did a better job than anybody else, and I’m sure it was a very popular victory back in Britain. The race was ruined for us, however by over-exuberant officiating by the IRL stewards. Black flags were shown to three drivers, all of whom are not regularly competing in the series but come to Indy as their one big race of the year. This was infuriating, frankly, because the flags were thrown for so-called ‘blocking tactics’ by Townsend Bell, John Andretti and my son Graham, who led Franchitti for an entire fuel run, doing 223mph laps, so he had a good race car under him before the stewards intervened.
The point is, blocking tactics have always been a part of oval racing and it was odd that it was always these non-championship drivers who were flagged. Both Townsend and Graham would have finished a whole lot higher than they did if they’d been allowed to get on and race. Both guys were fast, racing in the top 10, so that was disappointing.
The stewards have to get an oval race driver to work with them, like the FIA is now doing in Formula 1, otherwise the rules will never be applied correctly. Indy is the big one, the worldwide showcase event with hundreds of millions watching on TV, so we have to get this sorted out, and soon.
On a more positive note, Mike Conway is a very lucky young man to have escaped such a big shunt with remarkably few injuries. He was lucky because the boffom of the car hit the debris fencing, not the cockpit, but it was a testament to everything that’s been done to make these cars as safe as they are. When you’re going that fast there’s not much margin for error at Indy and we certainly saw that in Conway’s accident.
Right after Indy I was on my way to Monza for the Coppa lntereuropa Storica where I was racing an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and then it was straight back to the States for our next Legends event at Watkins Glen. It sure is a busy summer.