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Ingram: Mid-Ohio Retains Charm After 25 Years

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2011

Scott Dixon takes the checkered flag Sunday at Mid-Ohio. Still-charming Mid-Ohio. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

Steam Corners, Ohio – Top Ten from the ALMS/IZOD IndyCar weekend at Mid-Ohio:

1. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 racing seasons since I drove my new Honda Accord into the pasture adjacent to Les Griebling’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (after dropping off my $10 bill to the family gathered in lawn chairs at their farm’s gate) to get a night’s rest prior to the following day’s IMSA Camel GT race.

As usual, I was working. Despite the popping of firecrackers all night and the redolent odor of manure, I managed to get some sleep. In the morning, I proudly crawled out the hatchback of my recently purchased Accord – one of the first on the market and purchased from a young guy in Raleigh by the name of Rick Hendrick, working as the manager of the Honda dealership at Leith Lincoln Mercury.

I stretched, then closed the hatchback just about the time thunder rumbled overhead. Moments later, I realized the beatific owner of this incredible little runabout had locked his keys inside it. Soon, the rain began to fall as I considered my options. There were no pay phones within miles, the locked Accord was not a likely candidate for a “coat hanger rescue,” and as a journalist making $135 a week, not much money was available for the

The camping area at Mid-Ohio is so close to the track you can see cars hit tire barriers. Not a good place to find a locksmith, however. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

inevitable call to a locksmith – on a rainy Sunday morning, which would inevitably treble the price.

Trudging up to the farmhouse, I picked my way through the pasture, and knocked on the kitchen door. After explaining my desperate plight to the beefy farmer in over-alls while dripping wet, I was allowed to use a wall-mounted phone, located just inside the door of the huge kitchen featuring a banquet-sized table in the middle, and given the number to a locksmith in nearby Lexington. Having promised to pay $40 – or nearly one third my weekly salary before taxes – to get to the racetrack perched on the neighboring hillside on time for the Champion Spark Plug Challenge race I had anticipated covering, I was down in the mouth, to say the least.

But soon I began to dry off and feel quite better about my prospects. I found myself in the middle of a “the farmer and his three lovely daughters” story. Along with their mother, three young women were kibitzing over a late breakfast and one was working on sewing a dress. If they were still teens, they were extremely healthy and well grown teens. As the prospects of the nearby race began to drift from consciousness, the beefy farmer suddenly reappeared. “You’ll have to wait outside,” he pratically growled. …And, I eventually made it to my first professional road race on time.

2. It’s hard to believe I watched David Hobbs drive a McLaren-entered BMW 320i at the front of the field from a deck on the back of a little A-frame, i.e. track headquarters, adjacent

The Indycars head out of the pits at Mid-Ohio on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

to the front straight later that afternoon. David was always fairly quick, even though Al Holbert eventually won in a Chevy Monza. But jeez, he’s so much better known these days as a member of Speed TV’s cablecast crew for F1 races rather than as a sports car ace.

3. It’s hard to believe that before Red Roof Inn founder Jim Trueman bought Mid-Ohio in October of 1981, there weren’t any guardrails. The track was surrounded by earthen banks, soon to be replaced by “Red Roof Inn red” guardrails.

4. It’s not hard to believe that Michelle Trueman, who managed the track after father Jim’s death in 1986, and the Trueman family decided to sell the track to Kim Green and Kevin Savoree this year. Surely there’s more to life than operating a race track year-round for 30 years, albeit one of America’s finest and most revered circuits.

5. It’s hard to believe Road Atlanta exists because of Mid-Ohio. SCCA racers Dave Sloyer and Earl Walker began to get tired of hauling their car through the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky from Atlanta for the veritable privilege of racing at Mid-Ohio. So they bought some land north of Atlanta and laid out what has become another of America’s most revered circuits.

When the duo ran out of money, Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling executive Arthur Montgomery stepped in to pay for the paving of the 2.52-mile track and Road Atlanta was born. When the SCCA suddenly needed to add a race to its Can-Am schedule in 1970, the legend of Road Atlanta was born as the great ground-pounders baptized the new asphalt in front of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd lining the fences.

6. It’s hard to believe that the Miller & Norburn team I covered during my first Mid-Ohio visit while working on a feature for my employer, the Durham Morning Herald, was such a gathering of racing destiny. The Miller & Norburn team, which was based in Durham and

Danica Patrick heads up track at Mid-Ohio – and all the way to NASCAR? (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

competed in the Champion Spark Plug Challenge for modified street cars running on radial street tires, was directed by Preston Miller, the future field engineer for Ford SVO in NASCAR during the company’s comeback years in the 1990’s. One of the BMW 2002 drivers for Miller & Norburn was a guy named Nick Craw, the former SCCA president who is now the president of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States and the president of the FIA Senate.

One of the mechanics was Ashley Paige, destined to become the crew chief of the Nissan GTP team that won four straight Camel GT championships with David Brabham. Handling the scoring and PR chores was Durham native Syliva Wilkinson, author of “The Stainless Steel Carrot” first pubished in 1973, and, eventually, numerous novels.

I guess it was a good thing that I made it to that race on time, which further sunk the motor racing hook.

By the way, have I ever mentioned almost getting arrested for speeding on my Honda 400 while travling to my first out-of-town assignment for the Durham paper – en route to my first ever professional race less than a year earlier at Darlington? Had I been in jail… Jeez. Sometimes a career is a thing of destiny.

7. It’s hard to believe the only way I could get to a professional sports car race back in 1977 while working on a newspaper feature was on my own nickel. I took vacation time – I had earned one week after nearly a year’s employment – to drive to Mid-Ohio.

8. Given her ongoing desultory performances in IndyCar, it’s hard to believe Danica Patrick will not move to NASCAR ovals in 2012. Three questions remain: will she run a full Sprint Cup schedule or the Nationwide Series? Will she do one-off entries at Indy – while her team owner gathers points with a substitute driver in NASCAR events? Who will be her team owner?

Those who claim to know the answer to any of these questions are either daft or, well, crazy. It’s a lot like the NBA strike or raising the national debt limit. Negotiations continue.

9. It’s hard to believe that perfect stories sometimes do come true, such as the day Bobby Rahal won the 500-mile race at the rather well established track west of Ohio just 11 days before his longtime team owner and patron Trueman died of cancer. …As for the current legacy, an impatient Graham Rahal had contact with Patrick on cold tires and spun in the Honda Indy 200. He’ll have to wait another year to win on the track his grandfather Mike and father Bobby called home.

10. It’s hard to believe that Team Penske got caught out by pit strategy twice at Mid-Ohio while gambling to get some points for Will Power and take some points from rival Dario Franchitti. On the other hand, the quicker your cars, the fewer the gambles needed.

11. (Bonus Play) It’s hard to believe that race tracks like Mid-Ohio don’t use more romantic datelines instead of the names of the biggest corporate limits nearby. Steam Corners, which is listed in my Rand McNally Road Atlas and is closer to the track, is far more intriguing than Lexington, Ohio. Flowery Branch, Ga., the original dateline for Road Atlanta, is a bit more inspiring than Braselton, to take another example.

Quote of the Week: “When Jim Trueman bought this track, he built it out but kept it just as beautiful. It has retained it’s original flavor. We’d prefer not to have motorcycle curbs, but other than that this track is identical to the one I first raced on in 1983.” – Cadillac driver Johnny O’Connell following his victory in the World Challenge event at Mid-Ohio

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Kurt Stolpa says:

    Thanks for the memories, Jonathon. I didn’t make it to my first race at Mid-Ohio until 1984. Who can forget all those March GTP cars bellowing out their song, or Little AL and Andretti practicing during a rain storm Sat prior to the Escort 200? Good times to be had for a reasonable price. We camped at Clearfork state park. It had toilets. I also had a CB400 Hawk GT. Thanks again.

  • David Torrence says:

    Great article – I CAN RELATE.
    Having graduated from Denison University (‘77), I considered Mid-Ohio my “home” spectator course…….also because my girlfriend at the time lived in nearby Mansfield.
    Awesome place back then and Jim Trueman was “true” to his name, he kept the character, sightlines and ambiance of Mid-Ohio in place for many years. Let’s hope it remains for years to come.
    I can also relate to the Honda 400, I had a Hawk as well but my vehicle of choice was an Opel Manta that was quite comfortable to sleep in at the races!
    David Torrence