David Byrne once sang, "Home is where I want to be," in the naive melody, This Must Be The Place. Waxing introspective, he probably yearned for a spot to rest his weary bones by the fire, a confident place to return time after time like a warm expectation. The history of Formula 1 in this country has also yearned for that consistent fire, beginning in 1959 at the rough hewn flats of Sebring, next at desert-based Riverside, CA, famous leave turning Watkins Glen, N.Y., Long Beach, south of glamour central Beverly Hills, the seedy streets of Las Vegas, Motor City Detroit, blue-eyed Dallas, and finally, a few ill-timed races at Phoenix ending in 1991. From East to West F1 has tried to find permanent status, a cozy place to call home. Will Tony George, the current patriarch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, be the one to open the door and welcome Formula One for good? Only time will tell.
The U.S. Grand Prix is a must win for Ferrari, being the truest test of speed, strategy, and brakes of the year. Indianapolis will act like an isolated control experiment, none of the teams, cars, or drivers having performed on it aside from Heinz-Harald Frentzen who did an Indy special for Speedvision in a stock Mercedes. All variables will be at zero, all factors blank, come first practice Friday morning. No car/circuit advantages, no driver/team preferences, just one huge test field roaring into turn 1, different than Indianapolis has ever seen, running clockwise and turning 13 times per lap.
Ferrari Club of America members, 1,000-plus strong, have come from coast to coast and beyond to witness this prestigious beginning. The first event takes place at the Eiteljorg Museum housing Native American art work from the South and Pacific Northwest. A collection of Remington bronzes on the second floor is unparalleled, the most I've seen in one exhibition. The rest of the work is soft, rich, and impressive in stature, ranging from realism to panoramic impressionism. Food and drink are plentiful and so is the Ferrari camaraderie, more chocolate covered strawberries than you could shake a stick at. I hear applause from another room and investigate. It is Phil Hill and his son talking about characteristics of the track. Like youngsters, we ask mundane, simple questions only to hear one of our racing heroes respond. I'm one of them. Even as we leave, caterers are refilling platters over and over making sure we're all content.
We arrive at the American Legion Speedway Post, Ferrari Headquarters at the track, and enter the hospitality tent. All seems usual 'til I hear the first sounds from the raceway. They are not even formula cars, Porsche Cup Carrera's as I learned, but the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I fill a cup of coffee and decide to lap the grounds before the crowds arrive, 200,000 are expected. Under the grandstands of this monument of sport, I can almost hear echoes of decades past going as far back as 1911, the first official race at IMS. All the photographs I've seen, looking like family generational portraits, the racers I've touched, and the 50's Indy highlights I've loved, all come bubbling to the surface in one overwhelming moment. The hairs on the back of my neck have not been seated yet.
I make my way to the long awaited Indy straight, home of the famous "yard of bricks." Here the cars will be full open at 16,000 rpm's pushing the mettle of mind, body, and machinery to the limit, going 208 mph on this day, before having to retreat to 75 mph at the entrance of turn one. I record the first sounds of practice on my dictaphone, and 12 hours later the chills return. It becomes astonishingly clear that a Formula One engine is just 10 contained explosions every nano-second, harnessing fire, oxygen, and fuel simultaneously.
Hospitality has put together a box lunch that is anything but that in name only. Plentiful and tasty, a big sandwich, 2 s