Lizett Bond on the sky above and the track below: The ALMS at Miller
When Mormon Church Leader Brigham Young led his flock to Salt Lake City
in 1847 and declared “this is the place”, he had a vision and a plan as to how
this city of Zion should be laid out. From the city center or Temple Square
the wide clean streets were arranged in grid patterns of ten-acre squares.
Today Salt Lake City still has wide, clean streets with names like South,
West, Main and Temple. The area is in a redevelopment frenzy but does
have a cultural core with its own opera company, symphony and art
museum. Smaller, trendier restaurants are attempting to take hold alongside
some of the venerable, such as Lambs, established in 1919. Cucina
Toscana offers Italian food in the downtown arts’ district and the ambience is
unmistakably European. An exceptional new and used bookstore, Sam
Weller’s Zion Bookstore, resides on Main Street, a 3rd generation business
founded in 1929. The Salt Lake Art Center recently hosted Branded and On
Display with a work included by Salt Lake City native Paul McCarthy. Salt
Lake City also has a performing arts center, the Capital Theater, originally
built in 1913, which is presently showing its own production of Don Pasquale.
It is not difficult to navigate on foot in downtown Salt Lake City. The streets
are straight and bear names like 200 South, 300 South, 300 West…a virtual
compass reading with numbers. But what happens when the ‘seen that
before’ feeling comes during a visit to Salt Lake City? After all, there are
countless “South” streets, West Streets, and East Streets, all running
straight and true along their ten-acre squares.
Head on out of town and travel 35 minutes at a southwest angle to the town
of Tooele, Utah and the hunger for curves can be met at the Miller
Motorsports Park. Opened in 2006 the facility has hosted Grand Am Rolex,
NASCAR, AMA Superbike and the FIM Superbike World Championships as
well as the ALMS series. On May 15, 16 and 17 fans as well as competitors
were treated to a first class facility complete with mountain views that took
one’s breath away. May is the perfect time of year to host such a race, the
weather is pleasantly temperate and there is still snow on the mountain
Facilities of this type are not cheap to build and require a good bit of terra
firma for support. In order to be named “Motorsports Facility of the Year” by
the Professional Motorsport World Expo in Cologne, Germany in 2006 land
mass cannot be skimped on. With just over 500 acres, that’s a pricey
proposition. Which means that, for a new track, developers must go where
land is plentiful which translates to inexpensive. So in spite of the
breathtaking mountain views, and the beauty of the surrounding area, this
track is still basically in the desert.
That point was driven home with a helicopter ride, circling the track during the
race. After getting used to the feeling that one could easily fall out of the
cozy little goldfish bowl with whirly thing on top, sucked into the rotor and
cause a crash - they TOLD me that anything that came out of the cabin
would suffer that fate. The altitude provided a birds-eye view of every turn and
a real appreciation for the vastness of the course. Five hundred acres can
provide a lot of turns in the middle of a huge desert. The cars below sounded
like the honeybees the state was originally named for as they scooted
around the 24-turn circuit, the longest in North America. Having been there in
July, there was a real appreciation for being there in May. The summers are
dusty and hot and it ain’t like being at Laguna Seca, for sure.
Upon entering the track at the main entrance is the Race Fannz retail store
and the Larry H. Miller Museum. There are 24 acres of paved paddock area
but not enough food places for fans. It is all about the food isn’t it? Ah,
that’s why I love Vanessa’s.
Elements missing from the equation at this facility are accessibility, the
ocean, wine tasting, and a Carmel or Napa type of draw. Trees would be
nice. There is a definite lack of support as far as attendance, which is a
shame because Salt Lake City is close, charming and quaint, for a large city.
Park City ski resorts are only 30 miles away. Acura ALMS race winner Gil
De Ferran has been coming to the area to ski for years. It just all needs to be
Utah residents and track locals Martin and Melanie Snow of Pleasant Grove,
Utah were on hand to step back in with the big boys for a class win in their
911 GT3 Cup Challenge car. This was their 2nd ALMS victory, the first being
in Sebring in 1999.
“The local knowledge here is a big help,” Martin acknowledged, “Melanie
volunteers here a lot. It felt good stepping back in among the prototypes”
“The strategy for us was to do a consistent pace and not have any issues,”
Perhaps Melanie Snow summed up racing in the desert the best;
“Having the first race here was one of the things that excited us the most.
This track has so much of everything.”
Everything but an overabundance of fans.