One of the more historic tracks on the schedule of the IZOD IndyCar Series shows up this weekend. In fact, besides the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the third oldest racing facility on the circuit having opened in 1962 as a weekend sports car racing facility. There have only been three owners of the track in that time. Businessman Les Griebling led an ownership group that built the course and operated it until Red Roof Inn founder Jim Trueman bought the facility in 1982.
Trueman added many improvements to the track, but managed to keep the ambience and quaint feel of the facility. Trueman also founded Truesports, the IndyCar team featuring Bobby Rahal as a driver. Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 while driving for Truesports. Eleven days later, Trueman succumbed to a long battle with cancer. Rahal went on to win the 1986 & 1987 CART championships, before leaving Truesports following the 1988 season.
Truesports continued to field cars in CART, mostly for Scott Pruett – although Raul Boesel filled in for Pruett for the entire 1990 season, after Pruett was seriously injured in a pre-season testing crash. In 1991, they built their own Truesports chassis. It was the only All-American chassis in the field. It met with limited success in 1991 and the 1992 model was simply a dud. By this time Bobby Rahal had formed his own team with trucking magnate Carl Hogan and won the 1992 CART championship. Rahal believed in the All-American chassis program and bought the program from Truesports and the Trueman estate. The result was the defending CART champion failing to make the field for the 1993 Indianapolis 500. The program was scrapped shortly after the month of May that year.
Throughout this time, the Trueman family continued to run Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In fact, they ran it until March of 2011 when Michael Andretti’s former partners – Kim Green and Kevin Savoree purchased the track from Truesports.
The course is very tight and doesn’t have many passing opportunities. If you think passing is at a premium at Barber Motorsports Park – wait until you see Mid-Ohio. Barber gets a bad rap for being so narrow, but Mid-Ohio is actually more narrow. But what Mid-Ohio lacks in places to pass, it makes up for in history and tradition. Mid-Ohio is the Wrigley Field of the eighties in Motorsports. Before the explosion of baseball parks in the nineties and 2000’s – Wrigley Field in Chicago wasn’t even the oldest ball park in the city, much less the major leagues. Yet, few ball parks could match Wrigley Field in atmosphere and charm. Mid-Ohio is sort of the same way.
The challenging 2.258 mile, thirteen turn course has another unique feature – the starting line is on the backstretch, across the track from the finish line on the front-stretch adjacent to the pits, which have a very tough entrance and exit. These unique features make for some very interesting and quirky races.
Of course, I say this like I’ve been there. I’ve never set foot on the soil of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, although I’ve been to more games at Wrigley than I can count. A couple of weeks ago, Susan and I flirted with the idea of going to Mid-Ohio this weekend, but a look at our checkbooks made us think better of that idea. Given the relatively close proximity to Nashville (about a seven hour drive), we’ll probably make it in the next year or two.
But even though I’ve never been there, I’ve read enough about the place to know what the place is all about – racing tradition. Many CART and IndyCar races have been held there. Oddly enough, there was never a race held there under the Champ Car banner with no open wheel races run there from 2003 to 2007 when Mid-Ohio was added to the IndyCar schedule. Johnny Rutherford won the first CART race held at Mid-Ohio in 1980, while Paul Tracy won the last one held in 2003. When the IndyCar Series showed up in 2007, Scott Dixon won the first race. Come to think of it, Dixon also won the last race held there last season. In fact, of the five IndyCar races held there since 2007, Scott Dixon has won three of them. Dario Franchitti won the 2010 race held there while Ryan Briscoe won the 2008 event. That means Chip Ganassi has won four, Roger Penske has won one and none for any other team. That may change this weekend.
Ryan Hunter-Reay has put together quite a second half of the season. He won three races in a row before cooling off just a bit at Edmonton, where he finished seventh. He still leads Helio Castroneves by twenty-three points in the championship standings and appears hungry. He’ll also be driving a special green liveried car this weekend. That should count for something. Oddly enough, Last year’s third place finish at Mid-Ohio tied his best finish there which came in his CART rookie season of 2003.
But don’t discount Helio. He is driving like a man ten years his junior, but with the wisdom his thirty-seven years brings. Helio has never won a championship and is sitting in a good spot with four races remaining. Should Hunter-Reay stumble at Mid-Ohio and Helio has just a decent day, Castroneves could leave Mid-Ohio as the points leader with three races remaining. Interesting.
So who is my choice to win on Sunday? A driver whose record at Mid-Ohio cannot be overlooked – Scott Dixon. He’s still good, his team is still good and they are all hungry and mad. Target Chip Ganassi is ready to prove that this season on the brink is a fluke and that they can still win races. They will on Sunday.