Sunday, May 14, 2006

Exploits on a Racy Weekend

There is something about racecars thundering around a closed course that appeals to people.
Sure, there’ll always be that small percentage of crash mongers, hoping to see a race turn into a contact sport. But I prefer to revel in the sights, sounds, and a certain ballet of motion that can be appreciated while experiencing the phenomenon of men--and now, women--and machines, momentum and mechanical muscle.

The 2006 Houston Grand Prix exploded into town on Thursday, and folded its tents and trailers Saturday night. It was a triumphant return of the event after a multi-year hiatus, and it was welcomed back by an enthusiastic crowd of 127, 729 on a picture perfect weekend. And I got to see it up close.

How close?

Close enough to smell the methanol being mixed before the race.

Close enough to hear the frustration in the voice of 16-year old Forsythe Team driver Richard Philippe, knocked out of the Atlantic-series race Saturday afternoon because his car was hit from behind in a three-way crash.

Close enough to rub shoulders with the owner of the Forsythe Racing team as they won that race with a car driven by Andreas Wirth.

Close enough to do all the usual meet and greet stuff with the legends of tomorrow, like Katharine Legge, the first woman to race in North America’s top open-wheel racing series this century, and the first woman to ever attempt a full-season run in the Champ Cars.

Close enough to be in the pits with Paul Newman.

Close enough to know that it’s great that Grand Prix racing is back in Houston…and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

A couple of notes of appreciation are in order here…the blog-equivalent of a shout-out: My thanks to Susan Pollack of the PCG Campbell PR firm that was attached to the Ford Racing Team, and who escorted my Bride and I around the track on Saturday.

We like to think of ourselves as hospitable in Houston. Susan knows a thing or two about showing a guest a good time. Susan also lent me her camera when mine decided to give up the ghost before the final race Saturday night. When I receive my images from her, I will share them with you here.

Also my appreciation to the Champ Car Fast Lap team of drivers. These are the original “Charlie’s Angels” and “Magnificient 7” rolled into one close-knit klatch of female drivers that will leave you breathless after a lap around a track. And they can drive well, too!

The winner of the Atlantic Series race was Andreas Wirth. His pit boss was kind enough to allow us to view their activities during that race from the vantage point of their pit crew work station. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Finally, recognition should go to the organization that brought the experience back to H-town, Grand Prix of Houston. Kudos to Michael Heckman, Director of Corporate Sales, for filling the slots, selling the grid, and enabling the race to operate through the sponsorships he was able to secure. Money makes the world—and auto racing—go round.

I have plenty of anecdotal stories to share with you over the next few days. Plus, this week, I will be visiting the Port of Houston’s Bayport Terminal, with a look at the latest technology in cargo cranes, arriving from China for installation. Meanwhile, I’ll see you on the Radio in the morning

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