Jamie Samuelsen’s blog: Highs, lows of Belle Isle Grand Prix summed up Detroit perfectly

roger penske

IndyCar team owner Roger Penske, before the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle on Sunday, June 3, 2012. / Tim Fuller / US PRESSWIRE

Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Wojo” show at 6 p.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at jamsam22@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen and read more of his opinions at freep.com/jamie.

Do you think the pothole problems during the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix give the city a black eye nationally, or was it just one of those things?

The entire day was quintessentially Detroit.

You had bizarre weather that shifted from warm and windy to cool and rainy. You had crowds of enthusiastic people who wanted the best — both from the race and for the city. You had an inexplicable track malfunction. You had an interminable delay while people tried to figure out how to get things fixed (sound familiar?). And then you had a stirring comeback following the delay (we’re crossing our fingers that something like that is still to come for the city).

Sunday was a fluke. It was not something unique to Detroit. The Daytona 500 was delayed for nearly two hours in 2010 because of a hole in the track. Plenty of racing has gone on at Belle Isle through the years without anything bad happening. Thousands of man-hours and dollars were spent putting this event back on the calendar, so I highly doubt the organizers knew this was going to be an issue and simply ignored it. The odds are much better that this was some totally unforeseen occurrence that marred an otherwise good weekend of racing. Make no mistake, it’s a problem that needs to be solved in the future, but the race organizers will get a pass just this once.

And no, it’s not me giving them a pass. It’s not the race-friendly media giving them a pass. And it certainly should not be the city giving them a pass. If you watched the marathon coverage while they weren’t racing Sunday, you noticed that all the drivers were giving Belle Isle a pass. Not a single driver seemed angry — even James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato who lost their cars as a direct result of the track conditions. They didn’t spew venom at all. Instead, they showed remorse. Almost to a man, they said something along the lines of, “I just feel bad for the organizers. This city worked so hard for this race. The fans this weekend have been simply amazing.” Those are not direct quotes, but that was the theme of everyone interviewed during the delay, from eventual winner Scott Dixon to Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti to Tony Kanaan.

And all their sympathy, respect and disappointment centered on one man: Roger Penske.

Every now and then, something happens in a less popular sport, and media types like me jump in from the outside and start making grand proclamations. It happened after Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona. It happened after Todd Bertuzzi took down Scott Moore while playing for the Vancouver Canucks. And it happens any time there’s any kind of excessive violence in the boxing ring. Truth be told, if nothing had happened yesterday on Belle Isle and Dixon had won a ho-hum race, most of us wouldn’t be writing nor talking about the race. But because the road disintegrated before our eyes, here we are, playing the role of race expert and road guru.

I can’t do that. But I can observe what we all observed the whole weekend, and that’s the undying respect and reverence the racing world holds for Penske. It was his desire to have this race in Detroit. And he and his team (led by Bud Denker) worked to make it happen. A a hole in the road is not enough to overshadow the work they did.

The Tigers’ game was long over by the time the race was delayed, and television viewers were left watching either the race or the final few holes of Tiger Woods’ charge to win The Memorial in Ohio. That is the tournament hosted each year by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. As a result of Nicklaus being the host, the very best golfers line up each year to play. As long as Jack is hosting the event, Woods, Phil Mickelson and others will show up. As I flipped back and forth between the golf and the (non)-race, it struck me that the Detroit Grand Prix was the Memorial, and Penske was Nicklaus.

Sure, the course conditions were a massive disappointment. It will be the lead story of the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix. There’s no sugarcoating that. But it’s not a black eye that can’t be repaired. It’s a blip. The drivers will be back. The race will be back. And the conditions will improve. I don’t have a shred of a doubt about that. Why? Because Roger Penske is involved. There aren’t too many other people who believe in Detroit as passionately as Penske does. And I know that there’s nobody more powerful than he is who believes as strongly as he does.

Penske can’t repair the holes himself. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try.) But he’ll make sure that they are fixed in 2013. And he’ll make sure that the drivers and the race will be back for years to come. That’s what he does.

Originally blogged at: http://www.freep.com/article/20120604/SPORTS16/120604032/detroit-belle-isle-grand-prix-track

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