Kansas Sports Car Event A Winner Against All Odds
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Usually, sports writers ask the questions. Over the weekend at Kansas Speedway, things shifted. It was the competitors asking the questions of a reporter and they wanted to know the same thing: What are we doing here?
At the end of the day , the answer was: Proving that the Kansas City area will support a Tudor United SportsCar Series race.
Professional sports car racing was making its second visit to the six-turn, 2.37-mile infield road course at Kansas over the weekend.
As opposed to the inaugural Kansas Grand Prix last year when the full Rolex Grand-Am Series rolled into town, the TUSC show that took the track on Friday and Saturday was a watered-down broth.
There were the 10 cars from the Prototype Challenge Series – a feeder series to TUSC’s signature Prototype class which features the faster Daytona Prototype and P2 cars that race at places like the Daytona 24, Sebring and Le Mans.
There were the Prototype Lites cars – a feeder class to the feeder class – which shared the track with the PC series. And there were the cars of the Street Tuner and Grand Sport classes from the Continental SportsCar Challenge Series, which competed in a separate race from the protos.
There were some very good drivers wheeling the cars – guys like Bruno Junqueira and Alex Tagliani of Indy car, and Le Mans vets like Colin Braun and Enzo Potolicchio. There were some other recognizable
names, like Any Lally and Michael Valiante mixed in. There were some very professional teams involved – Paul Gentilozzi’s RSR Racing, Starworks Motorsports and 8Star, for example.
But in a city like Kansas City, a city which in addition to having top-tier pro and college sports also hosts two Sprint Cup weekends a year, this did not appear to be the kind of event which would require extra security to keep the crowds in check. Even under the best circumstances.
And the best circumstances were not what awaited the TUSC event this time around.
For example, across town, the always-popular New York Yankees were in town to play the Royals. Five miles to the north, wonderful short track Lakeside Speedway was hosting the World of Outlaws dirt series.
For those who like to watch their sports from the couch, the third leg of the Triple Crown of horse racing was being broadcast as was the IndyCar series race at always exciting Texas Motor Speedway. To top it all off, Formula One was making one of its two annual visits to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix.
All on the weekend before Le Mans.
Clearly, it appeared, the TUSC series would have to promote the bejeezus out of the Kansas Speedway event to sell enough tickets to pay the electric bill for the event.
But, there was little promotion. The series came and left as softly as a cashmere scarf.
There was no broadcast of the race – live or taped. Local stations ignored the event. The local paper thought so little of the race that it sent out third stringers.
In the paddocks, there was an air of negativity. Competitor after competitor talked about how the event was wasting their time and money. Hence the questions of: Why?
All of that plus the fact that the event, designed for endurance cars and drivers, featured a bizarre format in which two 45-minute sprints – which started five hours apart – were held sans pit stops and driver changes. The final segment started – that’s started – at 10:15 at night.
Speedway president Pat Warren maintained a diplomatic tone in talking about the event on race night. He said he understood the way it went down and he said he understood sanctioning-body IMSA’s decision to trim Kansas back to a bare bones test session.
But he also said he would love to have the entire Tudor series come back and put on a real show at Kansas. Presumably with a promotional blitz, national coverage and enthusiasm in paddocks.
Warren said he would like to show what he and his people and area sports car fans are about.
And he has a great point. Because despite of all the negative circumstances the event faced, several thousand fans showed up to watch. And those fans appeared to be enjoying.
The night was beautiful and the atmosphere was decidedly family friendly. It was also decidedly sports-car educated. People knew where to sit and how to watch and what to bring.
It was not Road America or the 24, but it was certainly better than could reasonably been expected.
The Kansas Grand Prix should be back – with the full series and with some love. The Heartland deserves it, Kansas Speedway deserves it.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment