|by Dennis David|
Alec Ulmann first saw an automobile race as a child in his native Russia. He brought this love with him when he emigrated to the United States. When local racers were looking for a place to race he organized the use of an airbase at Sebring, Florida. The first race in 1950 was a sports car event sponsored by the SCCA which had formed six years earlier. In 1952, seeking an international field he sought AAA sanctioning and the race was lengthened to 12 hours. It became a part of the FIA Manufacturers Championship the following year. The race began to attract the best cars and drivers in the world and in 1959 it played host to the first United States Grand Prix since the American Grand Prize series of 1908-1916.
Joining the contingent of Formula 1 cars was the number 1 Kurtis-Offy Midget of USAC National Champion Rodger Ward, the only American-built and American-driven entry. Ward's car had an underpowered engine (1.7 liters to 2.5 for the F1 cars), separate gear-change levers for the two-speed gearbox and two-speed rear end, and an outboard handbrake. Ward explained how his participation in the race came about by saying, "Ullman called me up and invited me to race in the Grand Prix. He offered me some money, and I was in the habit of accepting money, so I told him I'd bring the midget."
The race was won by New Zealander Bruce McLaren driving a Cooper T51 for the works Cooper team, the first win for a New Zealand-born driver. Championship points leader Australian Jack Brabham ran out of fuel on the last lap and had to push his Cooper T51 across the line to finish fourth. Brooks' third place finish clinched the title for Brabham. It was the first of three world championships for Brabham, and the first for an Australian, for Cooper and for a rear-engined car.
The upcoming race had all of the makings of a classic three man duel between Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. Each had a chance for the championship but after various mechanical gremlins retarded the progress of the main antagonists, the race belonged to a young New Zealander by the name of Bruce McLaren. With his fourth place, Brabham took the title from Brooks and Moss in that order. The race had started with 19 entries including Roger Ward in his hopelessly out-classed Kurtis-Offy Midget and proved a financial disaster. For the following year the event was moved across the country to Riverside, California but the crowds were still disappointing. The title had already been decided in Brabham's favor which did nothing to help the attendance.
In 1961 The Grand Prix circus moved to Watkins Glen in New York. Here the race had finally found a home or so it seemed. After the tragic events at Monza where Jimmy Clark and Wolfgang von Trips touched causing the death of the popular German and seven spectators, Ferrari withdrew from the remaining events after securing the championship under American Phil Hill. This left it to Lotus to score a win in the hands of Scotland's Innes Ireland at The United States Grand Prix. This was the first victory for Team Lotus in a championship race; Moss had won in privately entered cars under Rob Walker's team. Ironically the Scottish driver's greatest triumph would not amount to much later that year when he was sacked by Lotus. Chapman who had the amazing Jimmy Clark was keen to open a spot for him in Formula One.
Finally the race produced a small profit and settled into its traditional October date. The championship in 1962 was a hard fought duel between Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill. Ferrari again was a no show, this time their absence was due to their poor season rather than a tragedy though for Enzo Ferrari they may well have amounted to the same thing! Jim Clark won the race but Hill who finished second would go on and claim his first title in season ending South African Grand Prix. 1963 saw Hill return the favor but in an act of symmetry it was Clarks turn to win his first title. Hill would win the next two years followed by another win for Clark.
Finally in 1968 the race was one by another driver by the name of Jackie Stewart. That year the race was run between the Canadian and South African Grands Prix. 1969 the race was won by Jochen Rindt but the following year he was tragically killed at Monza and not able to defend his title. That job was assumed by the young Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi. With his victory the Championship was awarded posthumously to Rindt. The 1971-72 races were won by Tyrrell with Francois Cevert and Jackie Stewart driving respectively but the race in 1973 saw its first fatality when Cevert was killed during practice.
Tyrrell withdrew their remaining car and Jackie Stewart would never race again. 1974 saw the World Championship go to Fittipaldi as he drove to a conservative fourth place. It was Niki Lauda's turn the next year.
After holding a warm-up Formula 5000 race in 1975, the first United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach was run. This would prove the the beginning of the high point of America's involvement in Formula 1 that lasted until 1981.
Holding a Formula One race became more and more expensive and soon was out of reach for Watkins Glen. The race was moved to a parking lot next to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The Grand Prix that had raced in the streets of Monte Carlo and the forests of Spa and the Nurburgring now found itself amongst the Winnebagos of middle America. After two years this humiliation was ended only to be followed by further indignities at Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix.
Meanwhile Long Beach which continued to enjoy some access also found the price tag too dear and converted to Indy Cars after 1983. Soon it all ended and Grand Prix racing was once again absent from these shores.
In the new millennium a new United States Grand Prix is due to be held at a modified Indianapolis. A circuit part oval, part road course is being built in anticipation of the September 2000 race. As a final irony; that which destroyed Grand Prix racing in the United States was now assisting in its rebirth. While the location may seam strange it is in fact the only place in the United States where long term success might be possible. Alas on 12 July 2007, Formula One and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix would be the last one held at IMS for the foreseeable future, as both sides could not agree on the terms for the event
On 25 May 2010, Austin, Texas, was awarded the race on a ten-year contract, as Ecclestone and event promoter Full Throttle Productions agreed to a deal beginning in 2012. The event is being held on a purpose-built new track, which was named Circuit of the Americas.