Savannah races to be back flagged?

The Indy-car race planned for St. Patrick's Day weekend will be black flagged soon. Racing on Hutchinson Island should be to the finish line, not the start, and both the road course and the GreenPrix USA racing series would fail the pre-race technical inspection.

The track needs more safety measures to protect competitors and spectators. Converting a public road, even one seldom used, to a professional race course takes time or money, and organizers are short on both.

As for GreenPrix, the start-up series needs a marketing plan beyond its rudimentary Web site and random message board chatter. The man behind GreenPrix, Atlanta business mogul Ben Johnston, answers media inquiries strictly at his own convenience – and then only if doing so benefits him.

Contacted about the race's status four days ago, Johnston refused comment and insisted I call back Monday. But the only interview he gave Monday consisted of the recorded message on his voice mail. He failed to return several telephone calls.

Johnston's public relations shortcomings aside, his series remains viable for Savannah. The GreenPrix concept is cost effective and assures competitive racing. Johnston owns all the cars and sets each up identically, much like the IROC Series.

But Savannah's racing future is hardly tied to the GreenPrix Series. Even without the St. Pat's race, momentum continues to build like a multi-car draft at Daytona.

Up to speed

The Hutchinson Island track re-opened to racing with last fall's Hilton Head/Savannah Historics. Participants had such a gas Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR), the group that sanctioned the event, will stage two races at the track this year.

Nothing will do more for Savannah's racing revival than these events. What they lack in sex appeal – they are more exhibition than competition – they make up for in promoting the track. Look at the historic races as pace laps, meant to attract attention for the white-knuckle racing to come.

Plus, historic races are high profile enough in racing circles to ensure continued track investment while low profile enough with the public to be inexpensive to stage. The first Hilton Head/Savannah Historics didn't bankrupt its organizers like the 1997 Indy Lights Series race did its planners.

And the failed Dixie Crystals Grand Prix drew 10 times the number of paying customers the Historics did.

Speeding lessons

Horsepower won't trump willpower this time around.

The Indy Light Series showed interest in racing on a Savannah track before the track was done being built. And the promise of a top-level Indy-car event sent local organizers speeding toward the financial outside wall.

Those behind the latest racing push learned from such reckless driving. They want a GreenPrix race but not until the track, the series and the people of Savannah are all waving green flags instead of yellow ones.

Get the track certified for professional racing. Learn with GreenPrix as it runs its debut events on established tracks. Promote the heck out of a St. Pat's 2010 race.

Racing need not be a wreckers-or-checkers proposition. Savannah can ease into the fast lane this time.

It might take longer, but it will get us there all the same.

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