US GP Former Long Beach F1 boss Pook impressed with Grand Prix at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2000 -- Chris Pook can empathize with Tony George as the first Formula One race unfolds this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Twenty-four years ago, Pook took the United States Grand...

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2000 -- Chris Pook can empathize with Tony George as the first Formula One race unfolds this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Twenty-four years ago, Pook took the United States Grand Prix out of the conventional Watkins Glen road course atmosphere and put it for the first time in a new venue through the downtown streets of Long Beach, Calif. George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has brought F1 back to the U.S. after a nine-year absence and installed it in the most famous racing facility in the world. "It was very different in those days," said Pook, who, like many other racing personalities from around the country, is on hand for Sunday's SAP United States Grand Prix. "Basically, we had two airplanes from Trade Winds that flew all the cars in. The equipment was far, far less." It was the first time the World Championship series had come to Southern California. He said there was a major curiosity about F1. People came from all over North America, many from the East coast, from Watkins Glen particularly, and a lot of Canadians. "And, of course, there was a big Brazilian contingent, because they had (Carlos) Pace the first year," Pook said. "The multinational influence was probably greater than the American influence. "I think the Americans were all: 'What's this all about?' Remind you, we had come up with a fairly successful September before with Formula 5000, and people liked the racetrack." Pook thinks 1977 was the year that the Southern California fan began to understand and take a true interest in F1. American Mario Andretti was the reason, Pook said. "Mario, of course, was pretty visible," he said. "He drove in '76. That was for the Vel's Parnelli team. And they actually decided to close the team down at Long Beach. It was at Hilton on the Monday morning following that Mario got together with Colin Chapman and made his decision to go to Lotus." Pook recalls that Lotus had a disastrous time in '76 with Gunnar Nilsson crashing on the first lap and their second driver failing to qualify. "When Mario came back in '77, that generated a lot more interest with him being in a Lotus," he said. "Of course, his winning the race kind of cemented Formula One at that particular time in the United States." Andretti, now 60, is at Indy this weekend competing in the Porsche Pirelli Supercup race. The winner of the first USA West Grand Prix was Clay Regazzoni driving a Ferrari. "It was a tremendous show," Pook said of the F1 races at Long Beach. "It had a feeling and atmosphere to it that was just remarkable. The atmosphere was just incredible. You got with a hundred yards of the circuit you could feel it. "It's kind of like it is at the Indy 500. You get within a couple hundred yards of this place and the air changes. I think that will develop (for the SAP United States Grand Prix) as more people begin to understand a little bit more. "I think it will be successful." Pook senses the interest. He estimated that 80 percent of the people on the plane on which he flew from Los Angeles were headed to the race. He said plane connections were so difficult to make some people were disembarking in St. Louis, renting a car and completing their trip to Indy on the ground. "You've got to hand it to (Tony George)," Pook said. "He stepped up, made the investment, spent the money and built a beautiful facility. And clearly, I think he has taken the advantage of bringing the Formula One race to further upgrade the excellent work he had done prior to that. "It's going to be really fantastic."

-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Chris Pook , Tony George , Clay Regazzoni , Colin Chapman
Teams Ferrari