Somewhere in SoCal

Palm Springs, California, November 4, 2003&#151

It’s been intriguing coping with grand success and adversity in American open wheel racing over this past week or so.

Tony Renna

The loss of IRL driver Tony Renna, newly signed for Team Target’s 2004 championship defense saddened my soul.

Here was a young and talented driver I supported after being made aware of his abilities by a former champion, David Loring who is not easily given to praise. (That they drove together in several sports car races tells me David meant what he said about Tony, and he considered him a true talent).

When Tony Renna died, his Indy Racing League competitors and former teammates gave up a ton of fond memories of the Florida-born and Las Vegas-living Renna, who was about to get married. The respect shown by all was evident.

He was so jazzed to be going to Ganassi’s outfit. Tony Renna merited that ride. Ah, but this is motorsports and stuff like this happens. We may never know the exact reason for Renna’s crash; do we need to? We’ve got to move on. Racing is a dangerous sport.

Paul Tracy’s CART title gladdens my soul because he’s been so close, so very close and is such a fine man, a man totally committed to motorsports. Paul is over the top in many ways. Great drivers have to be.

Wildfires near the California Speedway in Fontana forced the cancellation of CART's King Taco 500.

I’ve been in California awaiting CART’s finale at Fontana. During that period, I’ve covered the Australian race that turned out to be the true finish to CART’s 2003 season and I’ve covered the various debilitating fires throughout southern California. The conflagration raged within yoo-hoo distance of California Speedway’s grandstands in the city of Fontana.

How strange it is that CART, under fire all year long finds itself canceling the 500-mile 2-mile oval climax at California Speedway due to fire? California Speedway did the right thing in preliminarily postponing the King Taco 500 and ancillary events, notably Winston West’s season-ender.

If you’ve followed the news you know that Winston West immediately agreed that their race should be held whenever the Speedway and its parent company International Speedway Corp. (ISC) thought best. According to Bill Miller of CA Speedway, Thanksgiving weekend would work for the replacement date. Miller’s facility is booked days of the year and finding another date wasn’t an easy task.

CART didn’t want to take it &#151they wanted the season done by the first part of this week. With the tenuous nature of CART’s viability, getting the 2003 season completed sounds like a good idea. After all, the company is for sale and pending on closure of the season by X date could be a big deal to buyers and sellers alike.

I am really struggling with this and I have been since the fires began. I would have expected the CART PR guys to get onboard with the problem but Communications VP Adam Saal just left the company and there was no one there with an understanding of the situation’s gravity. The fires raged for a good (bad?) 1000 miles.

CART’s PR reaction to ISC’s postponement was to call it a “cancellation” by the track and thereby end the season with 18 races, rather than the 19 the 2003 campaign expanded to when Road America was haplessly re-instated for August.

Belatedly and, I am told led by drivers &#151in particular new champ Tracy &#151CART said they’d take part in “Race for Relief” organized by CA Speedway to benefit local fire victims. Food from hospitality trailers was donated; drivers gave up some goodies and their time; CART physicians in attendance donating their time and the medical facility’s use were talked up.

I’m glad they did something; it could have been done better. Showing class is something CART’s had a hard time doing.

Now, as the CART season comes to an abrupt halt, there’s a champion out there who is doing the right thing and promoting his sport through philanthropic means: PT and his brethren got together to strengthen the bond of their willingness to promote their sport and show they have feelings for the folks who put their butts in seats.

It sure would have been neat to see Jimmy Vasser defend his rapid race win at California Speedway last year. But that’s not going to happen. The postponement of the King Taco 500 could have been CART’s last chance to play nice with ISC and keep the possibility of racing at one of their venues open. I am afraid the company just shut that door firmly and won’t be able to reopen it at any given time.

Hoping I’m wrong and getting ready for the CART banquet tonight near Palm Springs, I feel doubly anguished. On the one hand, I want to see the company emerge from its trials by fire with a strong plan for sustenance. I fully appreciate the discipline of racing streets, roads, short and superspeedway ovals. On the other hand, I wonder if this series, managed ineptly for nearly a decade deserves to survive in its current state.

&#151Anne Proffit

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