CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Primer and Guide

HOUSTON PRIMER by Michael Stucker - Motorsport News International If you're coming to Houston for next month's CART FedEx Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, you may be looking for a little bit more to do while you're in town. Look no further....

HOUSTON PRIMER

by Michael Stucker - Motorsport News International

If you're coming to Houston for next month's CART FedEx Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, you may be looking for a little bit more to do while you're in town. Look no further. Whether it's Grand Prix related events, the local racing scene, racing on the radio, buying souvenirs or fun places for car guys to hang out, it's all here. We'll also give you some tips for getting around town.

GETTING AROUND TOWN

Let's start with a note about Houston's freeways. While all are numbered (like I-10 or US-290), many times they're referred to by name instead. All traffic signs use the official numbers, but names and numbers are used in this article, so mentioning all of them is in order. It will also help if you ask someone for directions.

I-10 east of Houston is the East Freeway. West of town it's the Katy Freeway. I-45 north of Houston is the North Freeway. To the south it is the Gulf Freeway. US-59 north of town is the Eastex Freeway. South of town it is the Southwest Freeway. You may see signs on US-59 South that refer to it as the Lloyd Bentsen Highway. Ignore them. Someone in government thought this would be a good idea. No one else did, it's still the Southwest Freeway. US-290, which runs northwest out of Houston, is the Northwest Freeway. State Highway 288, which runs south out of Houston, is the South Freeway. I-610, which is the "inner" loop around Houston is called Loop 610 or the Loop. The outer loop is the Sam Houston Parkway, also called Beltway 8, or just the Beltway. This is a toll road. You'll hear references to South Loop, West Belt, etc. They refer to I-610 and Beltway 8.

If you're not staying downtown, you'll need a car. If you're staying downtown, you won't need a car unless you wish to go somewhere else. There are buses, but they don't always go where you want, when you want. Taxis exist but are expensive. Houston, much like LA, is a "car town".

Although Houston is a car town, parking for the GP may be a problem. Most of the parking lots near the race course have been converted to spectator areas. Metro, the city's mass transit system, will be running shuttle busses on Saturday and Sunday during the race weekend from four of their Park & Ride locations: Westwood (Southwest Frwy near Bissonet), Hillcroft (Southwest Frwy near Hillcroft), Sam Houston Race Park (horse race track on Beltway 8 in NW Houston), Monroe (Gulf Frwy near Monroe). These are used extensively during the rodeo and other events and work wonderfully. For more information on transportion call Metro at 713-635-4000 or check their website at www.hou-metro.harris.tx.us.

THE WEATHER

It's been very hot and humid with very little rain this past summer in Houston. The last couple of weeks, though, Houston has been making up for the lack of rain. There is no reason to think that temperatures will cool off much by race weekend. Expect highs in the 80s (if not the 90s) and lows in the 70s. It's always humid in Houston and rain is always a possibility. You can bring a light sweater or jacket with you, but most likely you'll only use it indoors when the air conditioning is turned down too low.

EVENTS IN AND AROUND THE TEXACO GRAND PRIX

On Wednesday, September 30, "The Mayor's Grand Prix Gala" starring the Four Tops will be held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston. Tickets are $500. Proceeds will benefit the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, Houston Police Activities League, and Junior Achievement. For details call 713-693- 2755.

Thursday, October 1, is a busy day, starting with the inaugural Mayor's Charity Golf Tournament for the CART and Trans-Am drivers at the Tour18 golf course, 3102 FM1960 East, Humble, which is north of Houston, off US-59. The Mayor's Tournament benefits Junior Achievement, The Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, Houston Police Activities League, and the Education Foundation of Harris County. The tournament starts at noon with a million dollar shootout between 6-8 CART drivers and is then followed by shotgun start tournament at 1:30 pm. Entry fee is $500. Viewing is free to the public. For more info, call Susan Anderson of the Houston Golf Association at 281-367-7999. Tour18's phone number is 281-540-1818.

At 5:30 that evening, Michael Andretti will be signing autographs at the K-Mart at 12005 Northwest Freeway (Hwy 290). Store phone number is 713- 688-5400.

Also on Thursday is the Party On The Plaza, a free concert starring the Fabulous Thunderbirds, at Jones Plaza, 601 Louisiana in downtown Houston. Party begins at 5:00 pm.

On Saturday, October 3, the Oldtimer's Sports Cards & Collectible Show will be held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, 7611 Katy Freeway, from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. While there probably won't be much in the way of motorsport items, you should have fun if you like pre-1980 sports collectibles. For more info call 281-361-3229.

There are also "Cruise Nights" every Saturday in Houston. Cruise Nights consist of folks with cool street cars getting together in a parking lots to show them off and have fun. One is held at Miami Subs, 10803 Westheimer, in west Houston, from 7 pm until whenever. Phone 713-784-9900 for directions. The Street Meet sponsored by Cruisin' Times Magazine is held from 7:00 pm until midnight at 14650 Kuykendahl, in northwest Houston. Phone 713-760-2049 for info. A cigarette pack rolled up in your t-shirt sleeve is optional.

RACING AROUND HOUSTON

If the Texaco Grand Prix isn't enough racing for you, there's more to be found in Houston. From go-karts, to drag racing, to stockcars, to dirt trackin', Houston is host to plenty of racing action.

Houston Raceway Park, in Baytown, which is east of Houston on I-10, is the home of the NHRA Pennzoil Nationals and Matco Tools Nationals drag races. There's something going on at the track every weekend. September 26-27 is the Houston Mopar Show and Race. Times are 9 am to 7 pm Saturday, and 9 am to 5 pm Sunday. Wednesday, September 30, is a Trophy Night. October 2 and 9 are the AAA Texas Friday Safe Street Nights. The AMA Pro Star Gulf Coast Motorcycle Nationals will take place October 10- 11. For info call 281-383-2666 or check their web page at www.houstonraceway.com.

For more drag racing, there's the 1/8 mile Lone Star Raceway Park in Sealy, which is 35 miles west of Houston off I-10. They have bracket racing and junior dragsters on Saturdays. Call 409-885-0731 for info.

Houston Speedway is a 3/8 mile paved oval at 11620 North Lake Houston Parkway, in northeast Houston. Formerly a dirt oval (Big H Speedway), it was paved and renovated two years ago, transformed into a very nice facility. Houston Speedway hosts racing there most Saturday nights involving Stocks, Late Models, and Baby Grands. Racing starts at 7:30 pm with gates opening at 5:00 pm. Their season closer is October 10 with a race for UMP/IMCA open-wheel modifieds. For info call 281-458-1972.

The Gulf Coast Karters Inc. have a .4 mile paved "sprint" road course go-kart track on Stockdick Road, north of I-10 in Katy, which is about 20 miles west of Houston. Champ Series Race #5 will take place Sunday, October 11. Practice begins at 10 am and racing starts at noon. You can call Race Director Ray Aquirre at 281-484-2093 or 281-664-7080 or check their web page at www.racekarts.com.

If you prefer your racing in the dirt, Battleground Speedway is the place. The track is located in the Highlands, north of I-10, east of Houston. Battleground, which hosts the World of Outlaws twice a year, has racing on most Saturday nights. Classes include Dwarf, Minisprint, Midget, Turf, Modified, Stockcar, and Thunderbomber. For more info call 713-946-7223 or 713-748-7056.

On State Road 105 in Cleveland, you'll find 105 Speedway. This 3/8 mile clay oval has Saturday night racing consisting of modifieds, late models, and various stock classes. Cleveland is about 40 miles north of Houston on US-59. Racing begins at 7 pm. Call 800-592-6327 for more info.

Texas Thunder Speedway is a 1/4 mile dirt track at 8826 State Highway 35 in Alvin, which is south of Houston. Modifieds, ministocks, sprints, and stocks are some of the classes that run there on Saturday nights. Track phone is 281-393-1190 and business phone is 281-992-1390.

About 80 miles east of Houston on I-10 is the town of Beaumont. You'll find winged modifieds, open-wheeled modifieds, stocks, and Thunderbombers racing there on Saturday nights (Friday and Saturday on the Texaco GP weekend) at Speedway 90, which is on US-90, 9.5 miles west of I-10. Gates open at 5 pm and racing starts at 7 pm. Track phone is 409-752-5860 and business phone is 318-497-1916.

Hilltop Raceway, another small dirt track, is located in Waller, which is about 35 miles northwest of Houston on US-290. Call 409-373-5278 for info.

OTHER AUTOMOTIVE RELATED DESTINATIONS

There are several museums in Houston that may be of interest to the automotively inclined, aka car nuts.

Houston is known for its annual Art Car Parade in the spring. The rest of the year, the best place to see art cars, weird and wonderful rolling works of art made from cars is at the Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Blvd. The museum is open from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday-Sunday. Phone 713-861-5526. Admission is free.

Another place to view art cars, is the Art Car Park, a parking garage at the intersection of Pease and Travis, downtown.

While you're downtown visit the Houston Fire Museum, located in the former Fire Station #7, at 2403 Milam. Old fire fighting vehicles are just one of the attractions to see there. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm. Call 713-524-2526 for more info.

The American Funeral Services Museum is not as macabre as it sounds. There is a large and wonderful collection of hearses from all eras of the 20th century there. Located at 415 Barren Springs Dr., west of the North Freeway and relatively near Bush Intercontinental Airport. Open Monday-Friday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturday-Sunday from noon to 4 pm. For more info call 281-876-3063.

SHOPPING FOR CAR STUFF

There are many malls in Houston but we'll only mention two. The first is The Park, which overlooks the race course's back straight (Austin) at 1200 McKinney. The Park is open 10-7 weekdays and 10-5 on Saturday. The largest mall in Houston is the Galleria at 5015 Westheimer, just outside of the West Loop. The Gallaria is open 7 days a week.

A nice shopping area is the 240+ shop Old Town Spring.  Spring is a small
town located north of Houston off I-45.  There are three stores of
interest to motorsport fans located in Spring.  They are: 

Pete's Miniature Motors is located at 406 Main St., just as you enter old Old Town Spring. They sell a plethora of diecast cars, trucks, banks, airplanes, etc. Open 11 am to 6 pm weekdays, 10 am to 6 pm Saturday, and noon to 6 pm Sunday. Phone 281-288-1236.

Signature Limited Editions, also in Old Town Spring, is located in Suite 205 at 421 Gentry. You'll find automotive and aircraft art, paintings, sculptures, and museum quality models here. Open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 pm Sunday. Phone 281-288-4595.

Fast Tracks Racing Collectibles is also in Spring, at 26438 Lexington Blvd., but is not in the Old Town shopping district. NASCAR and NHRA collectibles and clothing are their forte. Open 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm Friday, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm Saturday, and 11:00 am to 3:00 pm Sunday. Phone 281-288-6815.

The Pennzoil Store is located in the pedestrian tunnels (a great way to get around downtown and avoid the heat, humidity, and/or rain) under downtown Houston. Specifically, they are under the Pennzoil Building at 700 Milam. You can purchase Pennzoil products and Pennzoil race team collectibles such as diecast model cars and clothing there.

If you're looking for model car kits, there are several hobby shops on the area with the three best being Larry's Hobbies, 156 FM1960, at I-45 North (281-443-7373); I & I Hobby Center, 6707 Chimney Rock, in southwest Houston (713-661-7137); and Texas Model Trends, 11030 Kingspoint, near Gulfgate Mall on the Gulf Freeway (713-941-4000).

Texaco Grand Prix clothing is already available in the Houston area. Texaco Grand Prix t-shirts and golf shirts can be found in area K-Mart stores. Hogan Racing t-shirts, Polo shirts and chambrey shirts are available at Foley's department stores. There is a Foley's in downtown Houston at 1110 Main St.

RACING ON THE RADIO

Every Saturday afternoon, you can listen to Let's Go Racing on KKTL, 97.1 FM. Hosts Jay Davis and Bobby Crisp discuss all kinds of racing, both big league and local. Usually on from 3 pm to 4 pm, it gets moved around by Rice Owls college football broadcasts. You can check them out on the web at www.97talk.inradio.net.

KILT, 610 AM, will broadcast the race. It will be live unless preempted by a Houston Astros baseball playoff game. In case of a conflict, the race will be broadcast on a tape delayed basis.

OTHER THINGS TO DO

As mentioned above, the Astros may be in the midst of the playoffs during the Texaco Grand Prix. The Astros play in the Astrodome, but not for long, as a new ballpark is being built right near the Grand Prix race course. For tickets call 713-627-8767.

If you are looking for Houston nightlife, the Richmond Strip is the place to go. Richmond Ave. is several miles of clubs and restaurants, located in southwest Houston, not far from the Galleria. If the Astros should win a playoff series, this is where the party will be.

If you want to hang out with the drivers and race teams, the Four Seasons Hotel is probably the place to be. Located at 1300 Lamar, across the street from The Park mall, it's along the race course back straight. It's where some of the teams should be staying.

If you like to watch other forms of racing besides cars, there is dog racing at Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque, southeast of Houston on I-45. The dogs are running most evenings and some afternoons. Call 800-275-2946 for info.

There is also a horse racing track in Houston, Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West. The horses aren't running right now but they do show simulcasts of racing from around the country. For more info call 281-807-7223.

Of course, NASA's Space Center Houston is located at 1601 NASA Road 1, southeast of town off I-45 (call 281-244-2100). Galveston Island, always a favorite with tourists is about an hour southeast of Houston on I-45.

For more information about Houston, you can call or visit the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, located downtown at 801 Congress. Their phone number is 713-227-3100. By the way, there is nice little hole-in-wall bar called La Carafe located in the oldest commercial building in Houston, in the same block, at 813 Congress.

To see what else is going on in Houston you can go to houston.sidewalk.com on the web. The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston web site is www.texacogp.com.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti