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Tom Kjos on being snake bitten in the Utah desert  –  Vanishing Point

Tooele County, Utah, USA

  Our first view of Miller Motorsports Park was the dust of loaders, graders, and
trucks working along Utah 112 from Grantsville.  On our right was Tooele Army
Depot, home to 2,712,720 pounds of VX Nerve Agent and other similarly
unpleasant stuff.  We’d been on the road from Reno most of the day, past
Bonneville Salt Flats, roughly following the Donner-Reed Trail from Donner Pass
six hundred miles west.

  Deseret Peak looks down on this high desert valley from eleven thousand feet, a
background this weekend for quiet diesel turbos and the raucous exhaust note of
naturally aspirated V8s.  The plumes of ordnance detonations could be seen
southwest of the track.  Not on Dugway Proving Ground on the other side of the
Stansbury Mountains, but within the Tooele Depot.  Careful, guys.  Deseret Peak
Recreation Complex adjoins the track on the southeast.  If young soccer players
start dropping over like canaries in a mineshaft, then I suppose it will be time to
leave the area.

  We had left Interstate 80 and headed southeast for the last few miles, the
Wasatch National Forest on our right. Thinking of the Eiffel, I murmured, “That’s
where it should be.  The track.  Up there, beyond that first ridge.”  It was just an idle
and impractical thought.  I’m really surprised – and appreciative – that anything
like this gets built at all these days.  Is there any use for a racetrack in any shape
other than an oval?  Had this idea originated to support professional racing it
might have been just that, but an oval is no place for the rest of us to drive our well-
loved cars, is it?  I’m thinking that if a love of basketball became the Utah Jazz,
perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that a love of Cobras became Miller Motorsports

Alan Wilson’s Project
  Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Alabama, opened in 2003, so I have
to suppose we’re on a track-building binge in North America.  That one is about
half the length, but its eighty feet of elevation change dwarfs the zero feet of this
Utah track.  If we consider street circuits and to private club tracks, there isn’t so
much of a dearth, and MMP track designer Alan Wilson’s footprints are all over the
map.  Wilson, a native of South Africa, started racing while a student at Natal
University in Durban, and straight from there went to work for Ford in 1970
developing that country’s National Formula Ford racing program.  Alan’s wife
Desiré is a familiar name in the annals of motor sports; a driver of considerable
talent, she’s the only woman ever to win a Formula One race (a round of the
Aurora AFX British Championship in 1980), had eleven starts in CART, and
competed in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship in such as the
Porsche 935 turbo, Porsche 956, Ferrari 512BB/LM, and March 83G.  Meanwhile,
Alan was making his mark in series and track management, including CART
(Chief Steward) SCCA (managing the 1998-1999 USRRC), and Brands Hatch,
(Group Circuit Manager).  But it is in track design he has made his reputation,
leaving his stamp on street courses from Columbus to Dallas, Minneapolis and
Denver, followed by permanent facilities including the Fontana Speedway and the
GingerMan, Mid-America, BeaveRun, and Arizona club tracks.  The upgrades at
Mont Tremblant are his work, as are now these two most recent professional road
race circuits, Barber in Alabama, and this Utah creation.  Both of the latter are FIA
Category 2, tracks, meaning everything can be run there except Formula 1 cars.

  The road course at Miller Motorsport Park is 4.5 miles in length on a 511 acre site
and can be divided into two shorter tracks of approximately 2.2 miles each for
simultaneous club events.  The front straight is 3500 feet, the longest in North
America, eclipsing Road America’s uphill climb past the pits. The final (slightly)
banked turn and the front straight are fifty feet wide, the remainder of the track is
forty.  A “link” – think ‘the Chute at Infineon for both affect and purpose – can be
used to create a three mile “high speed perimeter course.”  Is there a Busch in
this track’s future?

  There is “stadium viewing” from six primary spectator zones, or “oasis” areas.  If
“oasis” creates an image of such things as green trees, you’re going to be
disappointed.  Within those six areas are four aluminum and steel grandstands,
and there we found most of the race day spectators.  They might each have been
about one-third full on Saturday.  Park on the gravel, walk the asphalt and sit on
the aluminum.  That’s the spectator experience for those who do not qualify as a
VIP or a member.  Yes, member.  This is most definitely a motor sport country
club.  Club House memberships, Speed Club memberships, Executive Club
memberships, Kart Club, single, spouse, family – even a “race league.”  Certainly
there will be a club champion.  Forget NASCAR, this is vanity and corporate
marketing learned from Augusta National and the NBA.

A course is a course of course of course….
  Which brings me to the (multi, as in far side of fifty) million dollar question.  For
what, or whom, do you build a race track these days?  The principles of oval tracks
are pretty simple, serving drivers who race on ovals and the hundred-thousand or
so fans who will sit in a stadium equally well with few, if any compromises.
Football and monster trucks are pretty much the same thing – and often at the
same venues.  But road racing and grandstands have seemed somehow
antithetical – spend some time at the former Sears Point if you don’t believe that.
And now you can spend some time in Utah, too, because Miller Motorsports Park
is, for the fan, the closest thing to Infineon yet.

  In many respects this is a street course in the desert.  You can see more – with
binoculars – but it comes down to an arrive, sit, leave experience.  “No infield
viewing areas are to be developed during initial phase operations, but could be
introduced at a later time,” so says the track’s own overview.  There is no on-site
camping and no hope for any.  Someone who knows compared the track to
Riverside.  I don’t know, I was never there, but the grainy black and white photos
have the same surrealistic feel one gets gazing across these five hundred acres
of sand and tar.  Subtract the fancy buildings – most of you won’t have access
anyway – throw in a few hay bales and there you have it.

  Part of the answer to “whom” seems to be “drivers.”  After some observations that
it might be “busy” with twenty-four – revised by Friday to twenty-three with a bit of
judicious re-numbering and some whimsical naming (Agony and Extacy as
entries and exits of a turn, for instance) – most expressed admiration for the track
as a place to  drive cars fast.  It was a little more mixed as a place to race, in part it
seems, owing to somewhat limited passing opportunities over those four and a
half miles.  After winning the pole for Aston Martin, Tomas Enge said, “I like very
much the track.  It is very good for our car.”  Obviously.  The Corvette guys, we
expect, were somewhat   less enthusiastic.  Enge added that “ the (racing) line
is very bad,” reference to the Laguna-like sand and dust, but we concluded from
most that the problem wasn’t nearly as severe as it is at the California track.  He
had the same first impression concerns others expressed about twenty-three
nearly featureless turns over four miles plus.  “I told my team should have a co-
driver (as in rally) for the first laps, but by five laps, you are learning it.”

  Lucas Luhr called it “something incredible, like Shanghai, or Malaysia, a new
track, very wide, very safe.”  Bahrain and Dubai were also said by some to be
similar; could it be the desert?  Lucas and the Penske team had struggled during
testing here earlier.  “After our problems when we tested, we were scared to show
up, but all those problems went away.  It (the track) has all the combinations – fast
turns, medium turns, slow turns – so it is very nice.  A little bit of Spa, but not so
much up and down.  It’s really a unique track, the corners are different than
anywhere.”  As for learning the track, Lucas observed that “If you don’t know where
to go, you shouldn’t be here.”  At that, Audi pole winner Frank Biela, sitting next to
the Porsche pilot, effected a look of shock, as if to wonder  “...should I not be
here?”  Frank actually had a minor “off” on his fast lap.  Luhr noticed and added,
“Frank’s old.  His eyes are going.”

  It was Frank’s turn.  “It is a big deal, it is very difficult to get used to.  I think it
needs a different way of driving.  You have to carry so much speed into the turn
here, you really have to be concentrating....perhaps if you’re a youngster, like this
(indicating Luhr)...”

  After the race, winner Emaneule Pirro saw designer Alan Wilson in the room.  “I
have a question for Alan (turning a press conference on its head is a Pirro
trademark of sorts).  This is the grippiest new track...where did you get the tarmac
to do this?”   The answer from Alan was straightforward, “We’ve used the same
company for the last three tracks, so I think we’ve got it right.”

  So two parts of the puzzle of this high desert edifice are drivers and members,
some of whom are drivers, too, however casual.  Unlike those paid to broadcast
across an impressive public address system, drivers weren’t ready to declare
Miller the “best track” or even the “best facility in North America,” and were loath to
make comparisons.  “How does this track compare to, say, Road America? Ask
me in twenty years,” was a typical response.  Rightfully so, it seems classic status
is hard to come by.

Pasta boy comes home to his roots…
  What brings the American Le Mans Series here, then?  “Demographics,” says
the man who should know, Ed Triolo, the former Panoz Racing Team manager
who now has to responsibility for such things.  “I basically sit in the back room and
crunch numbers,” was Ed’s description of his duties.  “We had the Nielsen
organization do a study.  The population here isn’t huge, but income is good, and
buying patterns show loyalty to things associated with events like these.  We
moved one of those circles (ALMS marketing uses a 250 mile radius circle to
demark the area of exposure of each of their events) into a new area (to here from
Sonoma), and away from an overlap (with Laguna Seca).  The circle will likely be a
bit larger here, too.  People drive further (than elsewhere) as a matter of course.”
So this fits the American Le Mans Series model then.

The other guys…
  On Labor Day weekend, Miller Motorsport Park will host a nine-hour enduro of the
Grand American Road Race Association.  They’re here because, well, look first to
drivers and members above.  This is certainly a facility designed to serve the
needs of teams and of drivers for whom the experience is a labor of love, and who
call other endeavors their “jobs.”  Those are just the participants to which Grand
Am caters.  Here is an expansive paddock with full paddock services, a nearby
medical unit, concessions, and toilet facilities, all state-of-the-art.  “Grand Prix”
garages, as described by track literature, “Formula One style pit garage
complex...”  Whether you make your money doing this or spend it, you’re attracted
to the latest and the best.  Such garages, also added last year at Laguna Seca,
and common at Formula One-hosting facilities, remain rare at North American
road race tracks.  Miller Motorsports Park – like Barber, for similar reasons –
would attract Grand Am participants.  Is that all then?  No, there is one other very
important attraction here.

I just adore a penthouse view…
  The folks at Grand Am have another interest, inherited from their NASCAR
progenitor – corporate and sponsor facilities.  Those are the “fans” most important
to that racing league, and they are certainly well-served here in the Utah desert.
Those Grand Prix garages accommodate rooftop spectator and corporate
hospitality facilities.  Again, the track tells its own story best. “Miller Motorsport Park
is unique in providing an exclusive ‘club’ viewing, hospitality, and corporate area,”
trumpets their description.  Included are “...viewing terraces...22,000 square foot
clubhouse facility...concourse arena...nearby restricted access parking.”
Everything the CEO needs.  Even if the addition of another Nextel road course
event seems remote at best, can that first Busch date be far off?

  If you like your races to include a motorhome, campfire, grill, beer, and the
gathering of few special friends, you’re probably not going to think much of Miller
Motorsports Park.  If, on the other hand, you are in any other part of this extended
family of motor racing and its fans, your needs are more than just adequately
served by this grand monument to that American icon that seems to have started it
all – the Cobra

                                                                                                             Tom Kjos
                                                                                                             July 2006

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Features on or from Guests
No. Class Team Drivers Car Sponsors
0 DP Tuttle Team Racing Brian Tuttle, West Palm Beach, FL; Jonathan Cochet, France BMW Riley Tuttle Team Racing
01 DP CompUSA Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Scott Pruett, Auburn, CA; Luis Diaz, Mexico City, Mexico Lexus Riley CompUSA
3 DP Southard Motorsports Shane Lewis, Jupiter, FL; BMW Riley Southard Motorsports
4 DP Howard - Boss Motorsports Andy Wallace, England; Butch Leitzinger, Rebersburg, PA Pontiac Crawford The Boss Snowplow
04 GT Sigalsport BMW Gene Sigal, Los Angeles, CA; Peter MacLeod, Bellevue, WA BMW M3 Motul/ enVista/ OMP
5 DP Essex Racing Rob Finlay, Charlotte, NC; Michael Valiante, Vancouver, BC Canada Ford Crawford Make A Wish/ Z-Line Designs/ Finlay Motorsports
05 GT Sigalsport BMW Matthew Alhadeff, Los Angeles, CA; Bill Auberlen, Redondo Beach, CA BMW M3 Alhadeff Motorsports/ Motul/ enVista
6 DP Michael Shank Racing/ Mears Motor Coach Mike Borkowski, Miami Beach, FL; Antoine Bessette, St Bruno, QC Canada Lexus Riley Michael Shank Racing/
7 DP Tuttle Team Racing Brian Tuttle, West Palm Beach, FL; Jonathan Cochet, France Pontiac Riley Tuttle Team Racing
8 DP Synergy Racing Burt Frisselle, Kihei, HI; Brian Frisselle, Kihei, HI Porsche Doran GlycoMax
09 DP Spirit of Daytona Racing Doug Goad, West Bloomfield, MI; Larry Oberto, Seattle, WA Pontiac Crawford Spirit of Daytona Racing
10 DP SunTrust Racing Wayne Taylor, Apopka, FL; Max Angelelli, Italy; Jan Magnussen, Denmark Pontiac Riley SunTrust
11 DP CITGO Racing by SAMAX Milka Duno, Venezuela; Marc Goossens, Belgium Pontiac Riley CITGO
12 DP Lowe's Fernandez Racing Adrian Fernandez, Mexico City, Mexico; Mario Haberfeld, Brazil Pontiac Riley Lowe's
14 GT Autometrics Motorsports Cory Friedman, Charleston, SC; Gordon Friedman, Charleston, SC Porsche GT3 Cup Mill And Textile Supply/ Mac Papers
17 GT SAMAX Robert Bell, England; Porsche GT3 Cup SAMAX
19 DP Playboy/ Uniden Racing Guy Cosmo, West Palm Beach, FL; Michael McDowell, Monroe, NC Ford Crawford Playboy/ Uniden/ Palms
21 GT Matt Connolly Motorsports Jeff Altenburg, Ellicott City, MD; John Angelone, Bridgewater, NJ; Matt Connolly, Bethlehem, PA BMW M3 23 DP Alex Job
Racing/ Emory Motorsports Mike Rockenfeller, Monaco; Patrick Long, Las Vegas, NV Porsche Crawford Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team
24 GT Matt Connolly Motorsports Bill Cotter, Seattle, WA; Todd Hanson, Atlanta, GA BMW M3 Matt Connolly Motorsports
31 DP Team Cytosport Greg Pickett, Benicia, CA; Scott Sharp, Tequesta, FL Pontiac Riley XCYTO Energy Drink
38 GT Bernheim Racing Steve Bernheim, Beverly Hills, CA; Dwain Dement, Laguna Hills, CA Porsche GT3 Cup
39 DP Crown Royal Special Reserve/ Cheever Christian Fittipaldi, Brazil; Eddie Cheever Jr, Orlando, FL Porsche Crawford Crown Royal Special Reserve
40 DP Derhaag Motorsports Chris Bingham, Clyde Hill, WA; Randy Ruhlman, Greensboro, NC Pontiac Riley PLP/ Preformed Line Products/ Coyote Closures
41 GT Team Sahlen Eric Lux, Amherst, NY; Charles Espenlaub, Lutz, FL Porsche GT3 Cup Rembrandt Charms/ HRPworld/ GOJO/ Hawk
47 DP TruSpeed Motorsports Charles Morgan, Little Rock, AR; Rob Morgan, Ladera Ranch, CA Porsche Riley Querencia Golf Club/ Wright Motorsports
50 DP Rocketsports Racing Paul Gentilozzi, Lansing, MI; Tomy Drissi, Los Angeles, CA Ford Crawford X-MEN 3 The Last Stand the Movie
56 GT Beachman Racing Bruce Beachman, Woodinville, WA; Rick Delamare, Snohemish, WA Corvette Beachman Racing/ Sunset Chevrolet
57 GT Stevenson Motorsports Tommy Riggins, Jacksonville, FL; Vic Rice, San Rafael, CA; John Stevenson, Swansboro, NC Corvette Stevenson Automotive
58 DP Red Bull/ Brumos Porsche David Donohue, Westchester, PA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ Porsche Fabcar Red Bull/ Brumos Porsche
59 DP Brumos Racing Hurley Haywood, Ponte Vedra, FL; JC France, Ormond Beach, FL Porsche Fabcar Brumos Porsche
60 DP Michael Shank Racing Mark Patterson, Bronxville, NY; Oswaldo Negri, Aventura, FL Lexus Riley Flight Options/ Nett App Lexus Riley
64 GT TRG Paul Edwards, Nipomo, CA; Kelly Collins, Newport Beach, CA Pontiac GTO.R TRG
65 GT TRG Marc Bunting, Monkton, MD; Andy Lally, Dacula, GA; RJ Valentine, Braintree, MA Pontiac GTO.R TRG/ F1 Air
70 GT SpeedSource David Haskell, Plantation, FL; Sylvain Tremblay, Coral Springs, FL Mazda RX-8 Mazdaspeed Motorsports/ Mazda USA
71 GT SAMAX/ Doncaster Racing Greg Wilkins, Toronto, ON Canada; Dave Lacey, Toronto, ON Canada Porsche GT3 Cup Minestar Solutions/ Tim Hortons72 GT
Tafel Racing Robin Liddell, England; Wolf Henzler, Germany Porsche GT3 Cup NEC
73 GT Tafel Racing Jim Tafel, Alpharetta, GA; Andrew Davis, Bogart, GA Porsche GT3 Cup NEC
75 DP Krohn Racing Tracy Krohn, Houston, TX; Nic Jonsson, Sweden Ford Riley Krohn Racing
76 DP Krohn Racing Jorg Bergmeister, Germany; Colin Braun, Ovalo, TX Ford Riley Krohn Racing
77 DP Feeds The Need/ Doran Racing Terry Borcheller, Gainesville, GA; Harrison Brix, Campbell, CA Ford Doran Kodak/ Amp'd Mobile/ Sirius
80 GT Shoes for Crews/ Synergy Racing David Murry, Cumming, GA; Leh Keen, Dublin, GA Porsche GT3 Cup Shoes for Crews/ Synergy Racing
81 GT Synergy Racing Steve Johnson, Bristol, VA; Robert Nearn, England Porsche GT3 Cup Comfort Systems USA/ Johnson Commercial Development
89 DP Pacific Coast Motorsports Alex Figge, Vail, CO; Ryan Dalziel, Orlando, FL Pontiac Riley Playboy/ Vonage/ Palms Casino
97 DP CyberSpeed Racing Tony Ave, Mooresville, NC; Skip Cummins, Houston, TX Pontiac Riley CyberSpeed Racing
98 GT Pacific Coast Motorsports David Empringham, Toronto, ON Canada; Ross Thompson, Phoenix, AZ Pontiac GTO.R Pacific Coast Motorsports
99 DP Gainsco/ Blackhawk Racing Jon Fogarty, Portola Valley, CA; Alex Gurney, Irvine, CA Pontiac Riley Gainsco Auto Insurance

after 4
not Woodstock
1st of the 9th
like F1, man
once upon a time
before the darkness
sports shorts
Roger's place
are we there yet
you work weekends too
long ryder
eet went pfffft