Friday, June 22, 2012

Ode to Portland: Can it already be 5-Years GONE? (Part II)

Paul Tracy - Las Vegas Grand Prix, 2007. (Source:
Day 1: Thurs; June 7th (Con’t)
And since I’d arrived early enough to my Hotel, I decided that I’d try something brand Spankin’ new, since for the very first time in 20 years as a season ticket holder, I’d been invited to the Champ Car Fan Forum at the Winners, Whiners, Wiener’s, err Winner’s club at the race track from 6-7:30PM. (Ironically occurring on what would become the very final Champ Car race held in the Rose City...)

I left around 5:20PM to wander over to PIR to try figuring out which entry to go into, as I was fairly certain that my normal side gate would be closed. As I was looking around, I spotted a couple with race hats on and asked them if they were going to the Fan Forum? Yes, so I asked if I could follow them over to it, since I’d never been to the event.

Ron and Susan were a super nice couple from California… Who’d started attending Portland since Laguna Seca left the calendar, as they really liked that track! (So I’m sure they’ll be pleased with Laguna Seca’s 2008 return...)

It was kind of fun walking thru PIR which was in total set-up mode and we had to cross the track via the infield road which the race teams use. It was very nice of them as I’d have NEVER found the “Winner’s Club.” As the Hospitality tent is completely unmarked and hidden on the infield portion directly across from my old West End grandstands, requiring a very lengthy walk…

Even funnier to me was learning that they knew the same nicknames for drivers as I use in the blog, i.e.; “Whiny Bags,” etc. I gave Susan my very first No Fenders business card while we swapped stories about Justin Wilson. Susan told me about a friend of hers who was a member of the Justin Wilson fan club. The one’s who bought shares and she’d won the drawing to ride around a course with Justin in a souped-up Mustang. Along with winning a pair of his driving boots in a raffle; yet Susan seemed most impressed when I told her I’d seen Justin race in Japan in 2003…

Just prior to walking down the dirt road to the hospitality tent, they met up with some friends so I left them to Chit-chat after being introduced. Then standing in line the man in front of me was most friendly after I asked him if he was in the end of the line. After getting my drink ticket and asking where to go, I wandered about since I’m positive the lady told me the wrong way. *Pointing to me where to go, (a fairly typical occurrence - albeit NOT overly helpful to a visually impaired person...) while standing there with my white cane)

So the same man asked if I was looking for the drink line and told me to just follow him. And what do you know; Champ Car bought me a free “Butt-wiper!” (Budweiser) HOLY CLYDESDALES BATMAN!

Walking about trying to find an empty seat, a man said are you looking for a seat? Yes, go ahead and sit here. His name was Doug and he thought I was with my friend, the guy who’d shown me the beer line… Nope, just somebody helping me out. As Doug was super friendly and told me he was 48 and his wish was to go to the Las Vegas Champ Car race for his 50th B-Day… Then Doug told me the secret trick for free drinks/food. If you don’t give them your tickets they won’t ask for them… Doug then asked if I wanted another beer. How cool is that! Not to mention Champ Car picking up the drinks tab, eh?

And I noted to myself how FUCKING KOOL the evening was, with at least 100+ people in attendance, not to mention how much of a STUD I was while wearing my brand new Ferrari jacket!

As the Forum started with Champ Car president Steve Johnson, whom I found to be very forthright and even claimed that Champ Car had appeared to finally get the right person for the job! Of course Johnson
Who’s still listed as Champ Car President and CEO has since been given a “Lateral Move,” (position) now free to focus upon sales, marketing and promotions. While Tony Cottman, formerly in charge of Competition, will handle the day to day running of all On Track operations.

Nevertheless I found Johnson’s “Fireside Chat” to be most enjoyable, bringing up many items I was unaware of. I.e.; rumours of a potential Street Race in Downtown Portland to replace PIR; Portland International Raceway being torn up this summer, resurfaced and upgraded to FIA Standards for a possible MOTO GP race? (Which has since gone to Indianapolis instead...?)

Johnson made a dig about the internets… Where everybody writes something (Me included) and everyone runs with it! And although I felt like I was getting the inside scoop, one must wonder if he’s also doing “Damage Control?” As Johnson claimed that all that had happened to date - having just been to a Portland City Council meeting that was simply proposing the (
Downtown Street
race) idea and he’d simply gone to listen with NOTHING having been decided. Especially since he thinks it would be a shame for Champ Car to miss out on what would be PIR’s 25th Anniversary next year.

Sitting at the table while Johnson responded to a question about the China debacle, I noticed that Doug had a Champ Car “Winners” Circle hat on as I made a snide comment about there being one “little” obstacle to overcome… Some bloody bloke named Bernie Ecclestone. And it was hilarious as Doug replied who’s dat? Which was a total krack-up to me as I explained to Doug that Emperor Bernardo was the DICTATOR (“El Supremo.Czar”) of Formula 1! As well as throwing in a few tidbits about all of the legal wranglings currently going on over this event; yet Steve Johnson stuck firm to his “Canned Answer.” That China is still on the table… Yeah, Right!

Then a fan got on a really long winded rant about why couldn’t they do a Champ Car race at Pacific Raceways? (A FANTASTIC Permanent Road Course located in Kent, WA) Even though there’s a little runoff issue! (Uh, DUH!) As I chimed in; not to mention something called Cliffs dropping off the side to the railroad tracks below! But Johnson mentioned how he’d been to Seattle and liked the track, just didn’t think the runoff issue could be overcome…

Wrapping up his portion of the program, Johnson even made a joke about that evening’s selected driver. Something about how every time he sees him, he’s giving him a fine; Hooah! And the two of them did a great job of trading barbs back ‘N forth before Johnson said I know you didn’t come here to see me…

And the “Special “Surprise” Champ Car World Series (CCWS) Driver” was NONE Other than ‘ChumpCarz current court jestor: Paul “I CAN’T Drive 35” Tracy!  Who is FUCKING AWESOME!!! As he seems to be like a fine wine, getting better with age, at least personality-wise - as I noted to myself; dare I say it? Tracy has mellowed! And even matured? As he had the entire room laughing their ASSES Off! Then his PR person kept telling him he had to go… “Time to leave Paul,” to which he replied: NAH! Screw it! I’ll BLOW OFF my next engagement and hang out here for awhile, much to the crowd’s delight.

When asked about any future plans of becoming a possible CCWS Team Owner? Tracy replied: NONE Right now… As instead, I like the money coming into me. When you’re a team owner the money tends to flow out of your pockets, but I’m happy that Gerry Forsythe has been so gracious to me. He basically let’s me do whatever I want to do! (Hmm? Bet those feelings changed in 2008, eh?)

Tracy said he agreed with the comment that Champ Car needed to have a more stable Driver line-up as the fans have a hard time following the massive influx of new drivers each season… (Perhaps we just don’t like having to learn all those new foreign names, right?)

Tracy noted that he’s 38 and he was looking at ALL of these PUNKS in Champ Car, like Graham Rahal who’s ONLY 18… And he misses the day when he was a young gun. Coming up he raced with the likes of Zanardi, Montoya, Vasser, Sullivan, “Lil Al and the Andretti’s

When he was a rookie, the “elder” statesmen were people like Fittipaldi, Mears and Mario Andretti were the norm, all completely recognizable names that the fans knew… (Before the SPLIT and some 800lb Gorilla named RASSCAR!)

Tracy was simply Amazing! And while listening to the next day’s weather report I recalled Tracy’s answers to two questions about driving in the wet stuff. In typical PT fashion, Tracy replied to the question about driving in the rain in the spray behind somebody’s roostertail; Weell you generally cannot sea anything! Especially at Surfers Paradise, which is the worst! Portland’s Ok ‘cause its got space, no buildings, Street circuit setting, where the spray doesn’t dissipate. You just start looking for anything… Like bridges, which you know if you sea a bridge coming up it generally means a braking point is coming up! (Laughter!)

The second question was about Portland Int’l Raceway, to which Tracy replied he doesn’t care what it does. (Weather) Of course I’d prefer a dry race, but when it gets hot here, the track becomes very “greezy.” What bother’s PT most is when the rain is intermittent like a couple of years ago… I think that musta been 2005? When its wet-dry-wet-dry you can never get a rhythm going and Portland’s definitely a rhythm track. It’s a rolling track, you need to roll thru the corners and keep your momentum going…

Yeah the back is fine. (Tracy had been out of action after breaking vertebrae at 35mph during practice in Long Beach?) Dr. Terry Trammel had given him the green light to resume racing this weekend, since he wasn’t racing at a Street circuit. Definitely that would have been a little more dicier because of all the concrete walls. Portland’s open. Then they go to Cleveland, an airport which is wide open except for there’s one big wall to hit there. (More laughter!) As PT’s obviously hit that wall before! Then they’re off to Mount Tremblant which is a natural road course… Along with the two European tracks; with Assen and Zolder both being natural terrain circuits. So there’s three new Permanent Road Courses this season.

Tracy was an all around “good guy” this evening and it PAINS me to admit it, to which I’ve told two people I’m a Tracy convert now… “Who’d a Thunk it?” That I’d ever say that about “Krackman!” Although my favourite current Champ Car driver is without question Justin Wilson!

Upon leaving the CCWS Forum at 7:10PM while ‘ole PT was busy signing autographs, I attempted making my way back out of the track as dusk was fast approaching. And having missed my turn, actually having NOT gone quite far enough I decided to ask some people stopped on a golf cart for directions.  (With my white cane of course!) They were really nice and the lady driving the cart offered to drive me back to the front gate instead… They were workers busy setting up the food booths for the next day.

Next I meandered over to Elmer’s for dinner and was seated immediately, before returning to my room at 8:10PM, pre-Mike Malloy show. (Malloy is delayed 3hrs in Portland) Thus I had a nice nightcap while listening to the soothing sounds (ACK!) of Malloy, whose tag-line is don’t go to bed SCREAMING! Let Mike do it for you instead...

To continue reading, see; Ode to Portland (Part III)