Mid-Ohio in dire need of upgrades
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was built to be a playground for Les Griebling and his friends. It soon became much more than that, hosting the biggest names in racing in the 1960s and '70s. When Jim Trueman bought it in 1981, he was a multi-millionaire businessman who moonlighted as a racer. Buying Mid-Ohio was a logical next step in satiating the love of his hobby. It soon became more than that, evolving into a cornerstone of the family's business and one of America's premier racing venues.
In 2011, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree bought Mid-Ohio and its school. They are professional racers whose experience in the sport goes back decades. They earned their livings first through owning race teams, then by promoting races.
They aren't dabblers, and they aren't hobbyists. They are motor sports businessmen with a desire to wring every last bit of potential out of the venerable road course -- because they love the sport and because it's their livelihood.
After 50 years, Mid-Ohio could be on the verge of another renaissance.
It needs it.
Since Trueman's initial building phase in the early to mid-1980s when he constructed the garages and the media tower, shaped the spectator mounds and erected the scoreboard, most of Mid-Ohio's capital improvements have been on maintenance.
What was cutting edge in 1983 is simply dated in 2011.
Mid-Ohio is starting to look its 50 years.
The garages are adequate, not opulent. The rest rooms are too few and the plumbing embarrassing. The PA system echoes badly in the Esses. The media tower is cramped and isn't up to standard as a workspace in the information age. Every year there are phone and Internet issues during its biggest events of the season.
In short, it's not the most welcoming of places, and it certainly doesn't get people excited -- to the extent it once did -- to come spend a day or a weekend when there are so many other things vying for the attention of fans.
Mid-Ohio needs to get with the times, and new ownership recognizes this. They also seem nimble enough to act and react.
They gave the walls and the guard rails a new coat of paint and stained fences before the Izod IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series weekend, making for a fresh look. When an issue arose over the safety of the area between Turns 1 and 2, they acted overnight to fix the problem.
In Sunday's postrace press conference, Dario Franchitti admitted he'd been consulted on ways to make the track safer for competitors and racier for fans. He alluded to possible changes to a corner or two in the future.
The track likely will keep its familiar shape, but with some tweaks, be it a few wider corners, more runoff or walls and fences moved, while keeping in mind more than just IndyCars race at Mid-Ohio. They have to come up with a circuit that safely works for open-wheel cars, prototypes, sports cars and motorcycles as well as amateurs and pros. It's definitely a balancing act.
More exciting is the possibility of reconfiguring the amenities around the track (something myself and another writer did while killing time last weekend).
» How about moving the pits, garages, timing and scoring and media center to the camping area down the backstraight?
Right now pit road isn't long enough to effectively handle 27 IndyCars let alone 34 ALMS cars. If moved to the backstraight, the pits could easily accommodate the magic number of 43 pit stalls (the number needed to run a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series race) with plenty of square feet to spare.
» How about turning the Goodyear Tower into luxury suites? How about doing the same for the timing and scoring building across the frontstretch? Instead of tents along Championship Row, how about converting the garages into a permanent hospitality area?
One of the knocks on Mid-Ohio in the waning days of CART was that big money sponsors and their executives don't like to spend their weekends camping in the country or hanging out in trackside tents. Those kinds of upgrades and changes would be the answer.
» How about turning all of that paved area in the upper, middle and lower paddock into a new manufacturers midway?
Right now it's stuck in the infield on grass and stone which gets messy when the weather turns. It might be more inviting to move it to a place with room to spread out and grow.
» How about reconfiguring parking with new access roads and entrances and exits around the track?
It would certainly help with flow and cut down on the need of some people to leave early to beat the traffic jam leaving the track.
Of course, none of those are cheap fixes.
A lot depends on Green and Savoree's finances and their desire to gamble on the upgrades eventually paying off despite laying out millions to just buy the track. Throw in a weak economy and the volatile nature of motor sports, and it would be hard to fault the new owners if they kept things status quo for a while.
It could mean bringing in a corporate partner like the Bader family did with their drag strip in Norwalk, changing it to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, when they made the switch to NHRA and spent millions in upgrades earlier this decade. (Corporate sponsor) Sports Car Course at Mid-Ohio is one way for Green and Savoree to come up with the capital to make their dreams come true.
Like Griebling and Trueman before, Green and Savoree could be poised to turn Mid-Ohio into something more than it is today.
A third renaissance would certainly be nice. Mansfield News Journal