THEY INSPIRE a passion that some men claim they have never felt for a woman. Their very presence commands an international following of royalty, celebrities and so-called beautiful people. Although they possess the brute power to reach speeds in excess of 200 mph, they are unquestionably the most graceful four-wheeled machines known to man. For several decades, they have raced on city streets and road courses in such places as Monte Carlo; Rio de Janeiro; Dijon, France; Brands Hatch, Great Britain; Monza, Italy; Kyalami, South Africa; Spa, Belgium; and Hockenheim, West Germany. Soon they’ll be coming to Dallas.
On July 8, just before 2 p.m., they’ll line up on a street at Fair Park and fire up their engines. Moments later, they’ll fly past the Food and Fiber Pavilion at a speed of 120 to 130 mph, slow to a near stop in a hairpin turn behind the Fair Park Music Hall, navigate a short straightaway along the Fine Arts Museum at 90 to 110 mph and finally slam the pedal to the metal down Pennsylvania Avenue past the roller coaster at a cool 170. In all, they’ll average 90 to 100 mph over the twisting 2.58-mile course, which has more than a dozen turns.
For two hours, a field of about two dozen drivers-the best in the world-will literally risk their lives on every bend of the course. With scientific precision, men such as two-time World Driving Champion Niki Lauda (Austria), 1982 Champion Keke Ros-berg (Finland), Alain Prost, Rene Arnoux and Patrick Tambay (France), Nelson Piquet (Brazil), Michele Alboreto (Italy) and Americans Danny Sullivan and Eddie Cheever will negotiate corners at speeds only a fraction below the point at which their cars would leave the road. If history repeats itself, a few of the drivers will push beyond that delicate technological limit and lose control or their vehicles.
It’s called Grand Prix racing, and the automobile genre is referred to as Formula One: an open-wheel, open-cockpit, single-seat car similar to an Indy-style race car, but a bit lighter (a minimum of 1,188 pounds), smaller (no more than 84.6 inches long) and less powerful (3,000 cubic centimeters or 180 cubic inches). Unlike Indy-style racing, in which cars race around a permanent oval track, Formula One races are run around twisting curves on city streets and are a road race in the truest sense. Indy racing is more a test of speed, endurance and power, but Formula One racing also requires skill and finesse on the part of the driver. (Reportedly, American racing great Al Unser recently remarked that he considered himself too inexperienced to drive Formula One.)
Whereas young boys in the United States dream of becoming baseball or football players, children in many other parts of the world fantasize about being famous race drivers instead. Few Americans have even heard of American Grand Prix drivers Sullivan and Cheever, but the two are celebrities in Europe. And although many U.S. newspapers neglect to report the results of any of the 15 annual Formula One races, each race is front-page news in Europe. In the United States today, the popularity of Grand Prix racing is similar to what soccer was a few years ago, according to the promoters of the Dallas race. The sport is just beginning to get some exposure in the United States, but it’s sure to catch on in the years to come.
Like the men who drive them, Formula One automobiles are the best money can buy. But they are also the finished product of some of the best engineering and mechanical minds in the world, employed by such famous racing teams as Ferrari, Brabham, Renault, Tyrrell, McLaren, Williams, Alfa Romeo, Ligier and Lotus. In reality, they are technology laboratories on wheels. Although their engines are only 3,000 cubic inches, they each displace anywhere from 550 to 650 horsepower. They have the power to go from 0 to 100 mph in less than 4 seconds, yet possess the flexibility to go from 0 to 60 to a dead stop in 3.5 seconds.
When Formula One automobiles are retired from active racing, they are often sold to collectors for $125,000 or $150,000- only a portion of their actual cost. Untold dollars go into the technological development of these cars. Some racing teams must employ between 75 and 100 full-time employees and have budgets of up to $10 million just to stay competitive.
“It is the most sophisticated type of racing machine in the world,” says Dallas Grand Prix race director Carroll Shelby. “They come from Space Age technology. Renault spends between $35 and $40 mil-lion a year on research. There is more spying in this sport than any other in the world. They are all trying to find out what is going on with the other fellow.”
In addition to sponsoring the Grand Prix, the promoters of the race recently announced that they have added a Dallas Can-Am race, scheduled for July 7 and a Europe/ America Challenge Cup Race on July 8. Also scheduled for the 7th is a major celebrity/pro race that will pit the world’s best professional drivers against top movie stars, singers, athletes and other celebrities. Promoters are courting such racing enthusiasts as Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, James Brolin, Bruce Jenner, Rod Stewart, George Harrison, John Cappelletti, Fred Dwyer, James Garner, Gene Hackman, Kitty O’Neil, Farrah Fawcett, Paul Williams and Leo Sayer.
Along with the excitement of motor sport on the race weekend will be the pageantry because Grand Prix races are as much social events as they are sport. Other planned events during the week of festivities leading up to the Grand Prix include a major charity gala at Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club, a charity celebrity/pro golf tournament at Bent Tree Country Club, a chili cook-off, a Concours d’Elegance and other vintage-car exhibitions, celebrity events and a fashion show.
But why, you ask, would kings, barons and queens-as well as the finest drivers and racing machines in the world-be coming to Dallas, a city without any motor racing traditions?
A LITTLE more than a year ago, two Dallas businessmen asked themselves a variation of that question. But, they asked, why shouldn’t the race come to Dallas? In February 1983, Donald Walker, a real estate investor and self-made millionaire, and Larry Waldrop, owner of a Dallas construction company, began studying the feasibility of bringing a Grand Prix to Dallas. After learn-ing of each other’s individual efforts, the two decided to join forces in March 1983.
Walker, 40, is a low-profile certified public accountant by profession. He owns and operates DRW Investments Ltd., an umbrella company for a group of affiliates that acquire, develop and manage commercial and residential properties, many of which are office buildings and garden apartments in the Southeast and Southwest. Walker was at one time employed by the Trammell Crow Co. as director of taxes and joint ventures and was responsible for all tax matters and joint ventures with financial institutions and tax motivated limited partners throughout the United States, Europe and South America. He and his wife, Carol, live in a fairytale mansion in North Dallas that could be mistaken for the Disneyland Hilton.
Waldrop, 38, is a local businessman who has been involved in real estate development and construction in the Dallas area since he received his business degree from North Texas State University in 1970. He was director of construction for Sanders Campbell Construction Co. from 1972 to 1976, when he established a real estate company owned by Grover Hope. In 1979, he formed his own apartment construction business and has since entered the field of interior finish general contracting under the name of Wal-drop Construction Co.
Both Walker and Waldrop are avid race fens. Walker collects and races vintage Ferraris and is a financial backer for the Norwood-Walker Can-Am race team. He boasts a vintage-car collection that includes more than 40 automobiles. Waldrop’s race experience is limited to negotiating the streets of Dallas in his white Corvette.
In recent months, Walker-often considered by associates to be a coming force in auto racing-negotiated a deal with the Sports Car Club of America to promote and operate between 10 and 12 Can-Am races in the United States and Canada and formed a 10-race Vintage Racing Championship Series. He has become known as a man who has the ability to apply business practices to the sport he loves.
The two men give a lot of credit to Shelby (who has been named racing director of the Grand Prix) for the necessary clout to bring the coveted race to Dallas. Shelby, one of the best known and most respected names in the international auto racing world, is a native of Leesburg, Texas, and is a longtime Dallas resident. He won the 24-hour Le-Mans race four times: once as a driver, twice as a manager of the Ford motorsports team and another time as a builder.
Last April, Walker and Waldrop first approached Texas State Fair Director Wayne Gallagher about the possibility of using Fair Park as a site for the world-class race, an event that could mean both big bucks and unparalleled international exposure for Fair Park. Promoters say that the event will generate more local revenue than any other event excluding the State Fair of Texas.
After gaining tentative approval from Fair Park officials, Walker and Waldrop met with the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board. Negotiations with the board began in June; final approval came in early August.
The two concurrently sought the approval of Mayor Starke Taylor and the Dallas City Council. By the end of the summer, it was clear that the city wanted the event. The only major task remaining then was to acquire the support of both the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in Denver and the Formula One Constructor’s Association (FOCA) in London before approaching the body that sanctions Grand Prix races: the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) in Paris.
Approval from the SCCA was granted in August; FOCA sanction came early last September in a meeting in Milan. Walker and Waldrop gained final approval from the FISA executive committee in a meeting in Paris last October. The two also have secured a contract with the organization to conduct the event annually for the next five years.
Although Walker and Waldrop have already spent countless weeks and an estimated several hundred thousand dollars obtaining and planning the big race (they expect to spend about $6 million before it’s all over), both say that the process went much more smoothly than they had expected. (Others have tried in vain; for the past two or three years, New York City has attempted unsuccessfully to gain approval to hold a Formula One race.) Walker and Waldrop are fanatical race fans, but they admit that their motives are complex and not altogether altruistic. They may make a little money, but then again, they could lose thousands of dollars. “We’re really trying to do something for this city,” says Walker. “We really have a love of sport and a love of [this] city. This is one way to make Dallas an international city. Sure, we hope to make some money.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the response of city officials. And we’ve found out that we have a lot of closet race fans in Dallas. They’re coming out of the woodwork.”
No wonder the city fathers have been so supportive of the coming spectacle. After all, the event not only will showcase Dallas (it will be viewed on television in 27 nations by roughly 100 million people), but it is expected to have an estimated $25 to $30 million economic impact on Dallas. (The 1983 Grand Prix in Long Beach, for instance, had an estimated economic impact of $16 million on that city, which pulled in $251,000 in net revenues.) In addition, The Dallas Grand Prix Co., which includes Walker, Waldrop and a private group of investors, will assume all costs for resurfacing Fair Park streets, building concrete safety walls, fences, bridges and other special safety elements throughout the course.
Promoters estimate that they will erect (and later dismantle) five miles of concrete barriers made of sections that are 12 feet long and weigh 8,000 pounds each, as well as erect six miles of fencing. Several hun-dred thousand tires will be used. The company also will spend about $300,000 to build and dismantle temporary grandstands for an estimated 60,000 people. The event will employ 2,000 people for about 30 days and is expected to draw Sports Car Club of America volunteers from as far as California to work as corner workers and pit marshals.
In all, the sponsors estimate that getting Fair Park ready for the race will require a $2.5 million capital outlay. About $1 million of that will be needed to resurface and maintain streets. The Dallas Grand Prix Co. expects to spend more than $1.3 million for fences and other safety requirements. It will be a monumental task to erect and disassemble a race course in less than a week. Some construction will begin this month; the resurfacing of roads will begin in April.
“It will all be a bit like building Monaco in Dallas,” says Walker. “For the past 10 or 12 years, my wife and I have been traveling all over Europe, and believe me, the world is aware of Dallas. People really can’t wait to see how Dallas handles a Grand Prix. I remember the headlines in the Italian press when Dallas gained the approval: ’Grand Prix in the house of J.R.’”
BUT ALL THE credit can’t go to Walker and Waldrop alone. Much of it must be accredited to Dallas’ desirability for such an event. The city has many of the prerequisites: superior hotel accommodations, an international airport, good restaurants, facilities for lavish parties and an affluent population-people who support international Formula One Grand Prix-a disproportionate number of college-educated, young, professional and managerial individuals with higher-than-average family incomes.
The international racing committee also considers such things as the city’s ambiance, general reputation and civic support. Although Walker and Waldrop say that they explored the possibility of staging the race near Reunion Arena or Las Colinas, the Fair Park facility is almost perfect for holding an estimated 100,000 people a day for three days of races and race-related events. It won’t be necessary to close off traffic to conduct a race at Fair Park. Since it’s enclosed, the area lends itself to better security, and Fair Park is known for being able to handle large crowds.
Dallas will be one of only two cities (the other is Detroit) in the United States to host a Grand Prix in 1984, and the local race will be the only U.S. Formula One Race to be sponsored by private investors. In past years, U.S. Formula One Grand Prix races have been held in Long Beach; Las Vegas; and Watkin’s Glen, New York. The Dallas race will be the ninth in the 15-race series for the World Driving Championship, and the Detroit Grand Prix will be held two weeks before the Dallas race.
But what has excited Dallas boosters mostabout the timing of the Grand Prix is itsproximity to the upcoming Republican Convention. Walker and Waldrop targeted theGrand Prix for early July, after the springrains and before the GOP convention. “It’sgoing to be a real exciting summer for Dallas,” says Rob Allyn, director of public relations for the race. “While many Dallas people usually leave town for their summervacations, we’re trying to get them to stickaround this summer. This is the summer thatthe world is coming here. It’s quite an opportunity for someone to see a piece of theworld for a low price.”