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Mulford was First Away - 1911 American Grand Prize by Peter Helck

circuits.jpg (4760 bytes)



 

Dallas
And another street race; a 1984 one-off run between hundreds of portable concrete lane dividers that ended up as a test of how close drivers could come to heat stroke while driving a kart course. Curiously, the race was won by a Finish driver. Keke Rosberg took it, while Nigel Mansell passed out pushing his dead Lotus across the line. Knowledgeable observers wondered how any venue could be more foreign to Formula 1. A decade, or so, later, however, NHL hockey came to Dallas and met with quick success. The race organizers were probably not so crazy afterall, although they couldn't come up with enough money for an encore in '85. Like Las Vegas, Dallas was touted recently as a possible site for a U.S. GP in the future, but has recently dropped out of the running.

Length: 3.901 km (miles)
Fastest Lap:
N. Lauda, McLaren MP4-2 - (1984) - 1'45.353" 133.3 km/h (mph)



Detroit
The ancestral home of the American car company plays host to a horde of effete European road racers screamed the Detroit Free Press. In fact the respected newspaper declined to make that statement yet many of the local inhabitants must have wondered why these racecars were not running on a local speedway instead of their "beloved" city streets. The inaugural event in 1982 gave the U.S. 3, count 'em, 3 GPs in a single year. Scene of a couple of classic races, including John Watson's victory from the 17th starting position in 1982. The course itself was no classic, but neither was it a Las Vegas, Dallas or Phoenix.

Length: 4.023 km (miles)
Fastest Lap:
A. Senna, Lotus/Honda - (1987) - 1'40.464" 144.172 km/h (mph)  



Las Vegas
Not even a street circuit but an "only in America" parking-lot course and possibly the sorriest excuse for a GP course yet produced. What does Las Vegas and Grand Prix racing have in common? Nothing, and yet for two years; 1981 and 1982 the Winnebagos and Airstreams that clog the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace were replaced by the whine of 1200 horse-power Formula One racing cars.  Road racing in America had reached its lowest point or so it seemed at the time. Vegas may have surpassed even Bernie Ecclestone with its desire to place commercial above sporting interests. Piquet cemented his first championship here in 1981. Las Vegas looked for a while as if it might be the site for the next U.S. GP, this time with plans for for a purpose-built race track. The city fathers opted for another golf course instead.

Length: 3.65 km (last race) ( miles)
Fastest Lap:
Alboreto, Tyrrell 011 - (1982) - 1'19.639" 164.995 km/h ( mph) 



Long Beach
MonzaLong Beach was the third best street course in the world, following Monaco and Adelaide. Sixteen years after it had first visited Southern California, Chris Pook brought F1 to this dockside course in 1976. It stayed through 1983 after which the less expensive Indy car show took over. Long Beach was the scene of some excitement. In 1982 Niki Lauda secured the first victory of his second F1 career in only his 3rd start. McLaren was victorious the next year as well when John Watson (who made something of a career of finishing well in America) won the final Long Beach event in impressive style, rising from the grave of grid position 22. Talented Swiss Clay Regazzoni's career ended here in 1980 when the run-off at the end of the long straight proved insufficient.

Length: 3.25 km (1st 6 years) (miles)
Fastest Lap:
N. Piquet, Brabham BT 49 - (1980) - 1'19.83" 146.6 km/h (mph)



Long Island
Long IslandBorn from the imagination of William "Willie K" Vanderbilt, Jr., great grandson of millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt and a racer in his own right, these races were held despite numerous court orders, public hearings and threats of injunction. The initial course measured 30.24 miles winding for the most part through Nassau County, New York. From 1904 to to 1910 the race was held on different circuits each year to offset strong civic opposition despite their popularity with the general population. In 1908 the course included 9 miles of  Long Island Motor Parkway in a desperate attempt to gain some semblance of crowd control.


Phoenix
You guessed it, still one more street race. 1989 through 1991, the latter being the last year a GP was held in the U.S. Senna took 2/3 of the victories - '90 and '91. 1998 World Champion Mika Hakkinen made his F1 debut here in 1991 finishing 13th in a Lotus-Judd.

Length: 3.798 km (first 2 races) (miles)
Fastest Lap:
G. Berger, McLaren MP4-5B - (1990) - 1'31.050" 150.168 km/h (mph)  



Riverside

river_nm.jpg (3657 bytes)Another one-off U.S. GP site. F1 visited the Southern California desert here in 1960. Riverside, like Sebring, could in no way be considered a quality GP course. Ferrari didn't even bother to show up. The U.S.-made Scarab scored its only GP finish, at the hands of Chuck Daigh. Local talent Gurney placed his BRM on the front row but dropped out before the end of the race. Jim Hall, making his F1 debut, had been a victim of a Chapman shell game - he was supposed to get a full-up Lotus F1 car but somehow wound up with an under-sized engine. He had to scramble to find a replacement with enough displacement to power him to a very decent 7th place finish. The race was won by Sirling Moss in Rob Walker's Lotus 18. Recently crowned World Champion Jack Brabham took fastest lap honors.

Length: 5.27 km ( miles)
Fastest Lap:
J. Brabham, Cooper/Climax - (1960) - 1'56.3" 163.1 km/h (mph) 



roos1s.jpg (5962 bytes)
roos.jpg (7199 bytes)Out of the Depression there arose a dream to resurrect international motor racing in the United States. The sport had degenerated into dirt and board oval track racing with Indianapolis as its crown jewel. While this type of racing was certainly entertaining it was so far removed from Grand Prix racing that few if any European manufacturers ventured across the ocean to compete. The rules also stunted the technological development of automobiles in the United States for years to come.

A group of Wall Street financiers and well-known sports figures such as Eddie Rickenbacker, former racer, WW1 Flying ace and ironically owner of the Indianapolis Speedway established Motor Development Corporation (MDT). This venture had as its goal to create a road racing circuit that would host an international event pitting the best that Europe and America had to offer in men and machines. George Robertson, one of America’s greatest pre-WW1 racing drivers and the winner of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup was its vice president and general manager. The complex near Westbury, Long Island would be as grand as any in the world or so its owners wished, with seating for 50,000, elegant sky boxes for VIPs (a scourge, even then ed.) and permanent garages for the teams. With prize money equal to $600,000 in today’s dollars the new "George" Vanderbilt Cup race would entice some of the worlds greatest cars and drivers including the German Mercedes and Auto Union teams. Unfortunately reality differed from the fantasy that was Motor Development Corporation.

The Roosevelt Raceway’s 4 miles contained 16 corners and one mile straight. It was designed by Mark Linenthal, an architect friend of co-owner George Preston Marshall, who gained notoriety as a horse race track designer. In fact with its hard-packed dirt surface, wood rails and track width it resembled a venue for horses more than modern racing cars. The New York press would quip that higher speeds could be maintained on the nearby Long Island parkways. In two short years the dream was dead and it wasn’t until 1959 that international motor racing returned to America.



San Francisco
San FranciscoFor 1915 the American Grand Prize was held in conjunction with San Francisco's Panama Pacific Exposition. The Fair, which opened on February 20, 1915, was in honor of the the discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the completion of the Panama Canal; it was also celebration of San Francisco's resurrection after the shattering earthquake and fire of 1906.

The 3.84 mile circuit was partially boarded over San Francisco Bay mud and when the cars drove over the boards the mud would gush out and splatter the drivers. The race was held on the 27th of February and after two hours of racing the winds picked up and the rain began to fall in buckets. After five grueling hours the winner was Dario Resta in a Peugeot.



Santa Monica
Santa MonicaAfter a one year interlude the American Grand Prize was re-established in 1914 on the other side of the continent. Santa Monica would play host to this race as well as the Vanderbilt Cup during a February Speed Festival. The 8.4 mile course along the Pacific shoreline started on Ocean Avenue before turning left at Nevada Avenue. This 90-degree corner was known as the notorious Death Curve.

After moving to San Francisco in 1915 the races were returned to Santa Monica the next year which would prove to be the last American Grand Prize (Prix) contested on a road coarse until a new Vanderbilt Cup race was held in New York in 1936. Speedways had become the "track de jour" in America.



Savannah
SavannahThe Vanderbilt Cup races were still being held when the new and richer American Grand Prize was established in 1908. That was the year when the American Automobile Association (AAA), the sanctioning body for the Vanderbilt Cup decided to ignore the latest international regulations emanating from Paris and instead imposed a simple 1200-kg. Weight limit on all entrants. This lack of regulations would remove any advantage held by the specially built Grand Prix cars of Europe. Into this breach stepped the Automobile Club of America (ACA) who announced that they would abide by the regulations issued by the ACF. The prize, the Gold Cup was worth $5,000 or twice the Vanderbilt Cup. The next task was to find a venue for the race. From several candidates, Savannah, Georgia was chosen.

Established in 1904 the Savannah Automobile Club built a 17-mile stock-car course and held several minor races before submitting the winning bid for the American Grand Prize. The club was originally interested in holding the Vanderbilt Cup event but entered into the new enterprise with great enthusiasm. Using convict labor they lengthened and refurbished their course to an expanded 25.3 mile configuration.



Sebring
sebring.jpg (3284 bytes)The first American F1 race was held on this Florida circuit in 1959. Strangely, Dan Gurney was not in the field for this inaugural "U.S. Grand Prix" and the first GP on U.S. soil in 43 years, though future U.S. World Champion Phil Hill and 5 other Americans were. The only one of the 6 to finish was Harry Blanchard, taking 7th in his only F1 start. Roger Ward ran a midget dirt track car, to no avail. Sebring is an airport track, but it is no Silverstone. Nevertheless it has achieved fame through its annual 12 hour endurance race for sports cars originally promoted by Alec Ulmann (who also set up the GP) and first run in 1952. At the '59 U.S. GP, Bruce McLaren became the youngest driver to win an F1 race, a record that still stands. Jack Brabham secured that year's driver's championship pushing his defunct Cooper across the finish line to finish 4th. The U.S. GP never made another visit to Sebring.

Length: 8.368km (miles)
Fastest Lap:
M. Trintignant, Cooper/Climax - (1959) - 3'5.0" 162.8 kph (mph) 



Watkins Glen
watkins_nm.jpg (4887 bytes)THE American GP track, the Glen was the only modern era U.S. track worthy of mention in the same breath with Monza or Silverstone. Buried in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York it was hard to get to, there was no place to stay, and it was cold in October. But the virtues of this classic road course more than out-weighed such nuisances. The contrast created by having a world class race track nestled in rolling farmland among forests, waterfalls and vineyards, and on the outskirts of a little hamlet that could not claim a population of 3,000, lent much to the Glen's undeniable mystique. It hosted U.S. Grands Prix from 1961 through 1980. Notable races included 1962 through 1967, which GP immortals Jim Clark and Graham Hill split evenly between themselves. In 1970 Emerson Fittipaldi scored his first F1 victory, in the process securing that year's driver's title for dead teammate Jochen Rindt. The challenges presented by the track took their toll. Watkins Glen has been the only American GP track to claim drivers' lives in the modern era. In 1973 it was promising Tyrrell driver Francois Cevert and in 1974 it was Austrian Helmut Koinigg who paid the ultimate price. In the late '70s The Glen ran short of money, which, in the age of Ecclestone, meant a sure and swift death. The 1980 race was the end. There may never be another American GP course to match Watkins Glen.

Length: 5.435 km (1970 on) (miles)
Fastest Lap:
A. Jones, Williams FW07B - (1980) -1'34.068" 207.998 km/h ( mph)