CLEVELAND CART event goes to evening
The series' future seemed doomed as top drivers and teams jumped to the rival Indy Racing League.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Gentlemen, start your engines. And turn on your headlights.
For the first time in its history, the Cleveland Grand Prix will be held at night under temporary lighting set up along the race's 2.106-mile course.
Organizers think the July 5 event, held since 1982 on the runways and taxiways of Burke Lakefront Airport, will be quite a spectacle for open-wheel racing fans.
"In these turbocharged cars, when the driver lifts his foot, you're going to see blue flame coming out of the back," said CART president and CEO Chris Pook. "You're going to see brakes glowing at night, and the racing will be superb."
CART also announced Thursday a five-year extension for the Cleveland race, one of the most popular on the Champ car series' 20-event schedule.
Cleveland and its unique open-road race course were ideal for staging a night race, said Pook, who added that CART is also planning to run its 1-mile oval race in Milwaukee under the lights.
"If you've watched this race on TV, you see the lake on one side and buildings on the other," said Pook, who has been trying to steer CART back on track after a turbulent year. "It's cool. It makes you tingle."
Pook said part of the inspiration for holding Cleveland's race at night came last July when he spent time touring the airport field on his scooter.
"No pun intended, but that's when the lightbulb went on," he said.
Illuminating the race course will be handled by Musco Lighting, an Iowa-based company that specializes in temporary lighting. Musco, which provided lighting for the cleanup at the Pentagon and World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, plans to erect 22 lighting towers on the lakefront course.
"This is by far the largest mobile lighting challenge we've ever taken on," said company president Joe Crookham, who said the light towers will produce the equivalent of a half-million car headlights.
Of course, CART racing cars are not equipped with headlights, but Pook said night racing produces no greater safety risks to the drivers. In fact, many of the drivers are eager to drive after dark.
"Drivers like challenges," he said. "And this will be a great challenge."
Pook wouldn't disclose the cost for lighting this year's race, but in this case, CART is the one paying the electric bill.
A year ago, CART's future seemed doomed as top drivers, teams and engine manufacturers jumped to the rival Indy Racing League. However, Pook has been able to lure Bridgestone and Ford as sponsors.
Now, he's hoping night racing can continue CART's recovery.
"We want to show the versatility of our racing cars and our series," he said. "We run on street courses. We run on road courses. We run on ovals. Now, we're adding another element to it."
Unlike previous years when the race was held on Sunday, this year's event will be on Saturday -- beginning around dusk -- and will coincide with the 4th of July holiday weekend. Practices and qualifying will also be held at night.