So there I was... It’s the day after the Detroit Grand Prix 2012.
If you didn’t hear about it, there was an unprecedented story for IndyCar Racing... The weekend was a huge success until our track on Belle Isle – not used in four years – started peeling up. Oops. Long strips of asphalt that were put in cracks, were pulling up as the drivers navigated the course. It was a problem for most of the race, but right at the halfway point, one car kicked up a section of tar, which sent the car behind him crashing into a wall. Red Flag.
The race was stopped and there was a two-hour delay as they used some form of concrete that they used to use in the Bugs Bunny cartoons -- you know, the kind that hardened in seconds. They filled the several holes in the track and then were able to resume the race. They interviewed A.J. Foyt and he said he couldn’t honestly remember this ever happening. (Although, Daytona had a pothole the first year with their new track. Not kidding!)
That all being said, for IndyCar Racing, it was somewhat historic. So, yesterday, on the way home from work, I wanted to see what I could see... I peeled off Jefferson and took a trip to Belle Isle.
From the bridge, I was diverted to the left, otherwise all traffic would end up at the Start/Finish line. At the first opportunity, I turned onto one of the roads that led to an opening of the track. Workers were busy removing the advertisement banners from the race walls. I started chatting with a polite guard who said I couldn’t go drive on the track. No problem, I didn’t expect to be allowed to, but I couldn’t help thinking how cool that would be. After a nice chat, I backed up and decided to try the next entrance to see if I could get further.
"Maybe I could get on the track if I walked up." I thought. So I parked the car and immediately saw two people riding bikes right out onto the track. Well! The nerve!
Again, I was met by a guard, an extremely nice young lady who sounded like she’d never been downtown before. “Is that Canada right there?” “Yep.” “Is there a casino over there?” “Yes, the Windsor Casino.” “The Windsor Casino is in Canada?” Etc... But she was still very nice. I asked if I could walk around and look for a souvenir. She said to go right ahead. “I’m pretty sure someone just left with one of those huge banners for his barn.” Workers were removing these huge, 6 feet by probably 30 feet banners, that said “Pure Michigan”. “You can go drive around if you want. Just stay away from where they are removing the fencing.”
I can drive the course??? “Sure. No speeding now!” Ha! Thank you, thank you and I was off to get my car. I held my breath as I pulled onto the track. This was Turn 7, I wanted to floor it, but I remained calm. I was on the back straightaway. This is where the drivers really open it up, maybe touching 200 mph. I was doing maybe 30. As I came to Turn 8, I saw that’s where they were actively taking down the fences so I continued straight on the regular road and met up with the track about a block away at Turn 12. This was where the Japanese driver, Takuma Sato, hit the curb and crashed into a “Pure Michigan” sign. A week earlier, he was battling for the win, and crashed on the last lap of the Indy 500! I parked my car in the same skid marks and took some pictures.
As I walked around that area, I noticed on the grass laid one of the offending members itself! A five-foot section of a strip of tar that they had removed. No way... Pop the trunk. Yes, I helped the Belle Isle clean-up crew and removed that hunk of asphalt. A Race Used Piece of Track. An hour earlier, I was joking with co-workers saying I’m going to bring home a hunk of the track. Well, now the hunk was in my trunk.
Back in the car, Turn 14 was full of huge Compuware banners – That’s where I work... Should I nab one of those as well? Another car came by with a gentleman wearing a suit and slowed to a stop. “Busted!” I thought. Instead he turned out to be very nice and yelled, “Hey! I’m doing the same thing!” He drove off – going the wrong direction, by the way. Tsk tsk.
Next, I was posing for several photos of my car crossing the Start/Finish Line. Yes! Tim Reinman, in his VW, has won the Detroit Grand Prix! The crowd was deafening in my ears – until the guy driving the hi-lo passed by, wondering why I was jumping up and down on the hood of my car.
After looping around the pit area I continued driving the course all by myself until Turn 6 and then everything suddenly looked very familiar! This was the very spot where James Hinchcliffe hit the tar and then crashed into the wall stopping the race. I could see where they had poured the ACME Bugs Bunny cement and beyond that, Hinchcliffe’s tire marks.
I got out of the car to take some pictures and to walk around on the extremely slim chance that there was a piece of the car still lying there. The tires that were bound together to act as a protective wall were moved around a bit. I walked further down the course to another set of tires when I noticed a piece of black fiberglass on the ground with white markings. No way... Sure enough, it’s a 6” x 8” piece of the front wing of the car. Still visible is “Go Da...” on a sticker that used to form the words “Go Daddy” – Hinchcliffe is the new spokesman for the company. Doesn’t look nearly as good in a bikini. (True race car fans will get that joke.)
At that same moment, an SUV drove by, filled with security guards. I held the piece carefully at my side as the truck drove by without giving me a second glance. Amazing.
A few more pictures, then back in the car, Turn 7 was right ahead and my security-guard-girl-friend was waiting. I yelled, “One more lap!” I pulled out my camera, switched to video mode and drove the course one more time. There are some seriously sharp turns, it was difficult driving with one hand holding a camera. My lap took five and a half minutes, a little longer than the Indy Cars, I’m sure. “That was awesome!” I yelled to the girl. I thanked her and headed home with my prizes.
Mr. Penske, I’m ready for my try-out!
P.S. Okay, now what do I do with a 6' x 30' advertising banner?