Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Race Days in Detroit

June 5, 2014 Think THF

While others might welcome the start of summer with the Memorial Day weekend, those of us in the Motor City know that the season begins when racing returns at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. The early-June event just completed a successful third year since its 2012 revival, and the drivers, venue and city all shined. Several races took place over the three days, giving fans a chance to see IndyCars, sports cars, and even Baja-style trucks compete on the 2.36-mile, 13-turn Belle Isle circuit.

The Cadillac V-Series Challenge, a part of the Pirelli World Challenge Series, pitted production-based cars against each other in two races. Fans saw some of Detroit’s best compete with foreign marques. The Grand Touring Sport class featured Camaros and Mustangs against Nissans, Kias, and Aston Martins. The Grand Touring class put Cadillacs against legendary names like Audi, Ferrari, Lambroghini, McLaren and Porsche. The “home” cars did well this year. Dean Martin won the GTS events in a Ford Mustang Boss 302S, while Johnny O’Connell took the GT events in a Cadillac CTS-V.R.

New to Belle Isle this year were racing trucks. The SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks race combined elements of Baja, motocross and road course racing. Sure, they were unconventional for Belle Isle, but the trucks’ X Games appeal (there were jump ramps on the track!) made them a hit with younger fans. E.J. Viso swept all three of the weekend’s SUPER Trucks events.

Also new were the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races. The result of a merger between the GRAND-AM Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series, the Belle Isle TUDOR races featured cars of two different styles racing in Pro and Pro-Am classes. The latter was especially exciting as it paired professional and amateur drivers into teams, putting a mix of skills and abilities on the track at any one time. The 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic championship race on Saturday afternoon definitely delivered on excitement. We had cars going into the wall, parts flying onto the track, and a well-timed spinout directly in front of the grandstand on Turn 1. Brothers Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor took the checkered flag in their Corvette Daytona Prototype.

New for 2014, United SportsCar Championship cars featured LED leader lights. The numeric lights indicated that car’s position in the race. It’s the ultimate in fan friendliness.

Every race was thrilling, but make no mistake – the IndyCars were the headliners on Belle Isle. Detroit hosted two championship Verizon IndyCar series races during the weekend. Top drivers competed for 70 laps at average speeds near 90 miles per hour. Top sponsor Chevrolet and event organizer Roger Penske both came out big winners. Will Power, driving a Chevy-powered car for Team Penske, crossed the finish line first in Saturday’s race, while Helio Castroneves, also in a Chevrolet-powered Team Penske car, claimed the checkered flag on Sunday.

The fun on Belle Isle went beyond the track. Devoted race fans could pass time between events in the paddock area. Pass holders could watch as cars were prepped for the next event or pounded back into shape after a previous race. Bands played live music all weekend on the entertainment stage. Vendors sold souvenirs, food and drinks of every type. Drivers appeared for photo and autograph sessions. Monster trucks carried strong-stomached riders through the infield. Of course, presenting sponsor Chevrolet was there in force with an impressive display of cars and trucks from its current lineup, with a few Cadillacs to boot.

Food stands and souvenir shops catered to every taste over the weekend.

The Belle Isle Grand Prix has grown into a signature event for Detroit. Locals get to enjoy some of the best drivers and teams in racing, while television viewers across the country get to see the Motor City’s resiliency on full display. What better way to welcome summer?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

race cars, events, 21st century, 2010s, racing, Michigan, Detroit, by Matt Anderson

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