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Grand Prix: Grand vision or visions of grandeur?

by Ogi Overman

Anybody who’s lived in the Triad more than a couple of days knows that High Point has an inferiority complex.

While Greensboro and Winston- Salem have forever duked it out for superiority over everything under the Carolina sun, from economics to sports to downtown development to education to transportation systems to politics to natural beauty, High Point has been the red-headed stepchild. The two larger cities split the pie and when they’re tired of gorging themselves throw High Point a few crumbs. In fact, were it not for the International Home Furnishings Market, they would barely acknowledge its existence. Well, all that may be about to change. High Point has a chance to put itself on the international map in a way that will dwarf even the furniture market. If all goes according to plan, it will throw the spotlight on itself, crank up its economic engines and leave Winston and G-boro in the dust. Literally. Recently a group calling itself Furniture City Motorsports unveiled a plan to bring a Grand Prix race to the streets of High Point. I don’t know how far they’ve gotten on the visionary project, but they did go so far as to hire a consultant, Chris Kneifel, to lay out a 1.7-mile road course through downtown High Point. The guy’s supposed to be an expert, a former open-wheel driver who now designs road courses for a living. While I clearly support and applaud their efforts, it doesn’t take an expert to figure out that a sporting event on this grand scale — one that will bring TV crews, international racing teams and hordes of fans, all with wads of money to spend, not to mention the intangibles of community pride and global recognition — would be a colossal economic generator for High Point. I have no idea how to put a dollar figure on the economic benefits, but I’d imagine the group pushing the idea does. If Bobby Long, head of the group that puts on the Wyndham Championship, were involved, he’d say it’s a win-win for everybody, and pull out the spread sheets to prove it. Now, I have no spreadsheets or particular expertise in sports promotion, but I do seem to recall that I proposed this very idea for Greensboro around five years ago. I’d have to dig out the column to prove it, but I remember quite vividly the response I got from the city leaders. It ranged from stony silence to derisive laughter. “Grand Prix here in the heart of NASCAR country?” they scoffed. “You must have gone back on the sauce. Better stick to your goofy ideas for the world’s largest soda bottle, downtown frozen pond, and

changingElm Street to a decade-by decade tourist trap named Century Boulevard.”Oh yeah, they mentioned something about another cockamamie idea I’dproposed, that of a downtown carousel with authentic German hobbyhorses like the one in my Burlington birthplace, but I don’t getridiculed too much for that one anymore. I guess since Bernie Mann andhis Rotary buddies raised two million bucks to put a carousel downtown,it somehow morphed from an acid flashback to a far-sighted,community-minded project worthy of our blessings and support. Inthe ensuing years, from time to time I’d drive around the track I’dlaid out through Greensboro and think what a wonderful event thiscould’ve been. Then last year I revisited the idea, writing a follow-upcolumn to gauge if there was a grain of interest in the Gate City GrandPrix. As before, nada. Oh, I did get one phone call from a transplantedYankee who was gung-ho over it, but other than him, it was universallyignored. So, when I heard that these folks in High Point wereserious about the notion of a road course through downtown, I mustadmit I felt a bit vindicated. Not that they would call me or that Iwould get any credit for it, but there was a sense of validation. Nowthat I’m on a roll, here’s another idea for my immeasurably vast cadreof readers to ignore: Go big. Don’t stop at one race a year. Take ErnieBanks’ advice and play two. There are more than few open wheel racingseries and sanctioning bodies (don’t turn up your nose at motorcyclesor go-karts), all of which should be contacted for potential dates.Thing is, High Point would not be able to take just any date; theracing series would have to conform to our specific dates. Thereason? The two races would have to coincide with the week before theApril and October furniture markets. Buyers would come in a few daysearly to watch the races, schmooze and cut a few deals in the skyboxesand high-roller viewing areas, compliments of us. You want to showVegas you’re ready to kick ass and take names, here’s the ticket. Just a thought. Feel free to yawn.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth on ABC 45 at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and on WMYV 48 at 10 p.m. Sundays.

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