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Greensboro’s last chance for the big time

by Ogi Overman

Tom Ward and I used to sit around his office at the Greensboro Sports Commission and talk about, among many other things, Tom Ward. No, Tom was anything but the egomaniac; but by an odd coincidence there was another guy in town named Tom Ward who shared the other Tom’s passion for both sports and Guilford County. The other Tom had years ago proposed that a combination NFL stadium/NASCAR racetrack be built on a plot of land straddling the Guilford/Forsyth county line, and my Tom and I would commiserate on how different things would be today had the idea taken flight.

So, it was with a mixture of delight and dismay that I picked up the Sunday, May 20 News & Record to find a thoroughly excellent story by Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson detailing our pathetic lack of foresight back then. It boggles the mind to think of what might have been, so rather than belabor the point, I’ll go in a different direction and share with you what might still be.

This is an idea I floated sometime in the late ’90s that was met with such a resounding thud that even some of the Sizzling Seventeen thought it was cockamamie. But it was a good idea then and it’s an even better one now. (I’ll tell you how it got better momentarily.)

Using deductive reasoning, here are the factors that lay the groundwork for my proposal: A) The NFL and NASCAR ships have long since sailed, never to return again. B) We had a chance to pursue a major league baseball franchise and blew that one too. C) It took three bond referenda to get the coliseum expanded and another one for the auditorium has failed since then. Therefore, D) Any sports venture that requires bold vision and big taxpayer bucks is going to be rejected by Guilford County voters. Jeez, Greensboro almost rejected a downtown baseball stadium – and that was built with 100 percent private money!

So what we need is a major sporting event that either requires no new facility be built or can be played in an existing venue. We need an event that has a built-in following that will draw huge crowds and an international television audience. We need an event that produces both tangible and intangible results in terms of megabucks and mega exposure. We need an event that has no competition anywhere in North Carolina, that will put us on equal footing with Charlotte and Raleigh. What we need is an event that will brand Greensboro globally.

What we need is … (crank up the flugelhorns) … the Grand Prix de Greensboro.

Alright, hold the guffaws, I’m dead serious. Right here in the heart of NASCAR country, we have built the perfect Formula One track, and didn’t even know it. We, the taxpayers, own it, and it didn’t cost us a dime. Hold on to your Cat hats, brothers and sisters, but we are primed to introduce the region to F1, Grand Prix style, open-wheel, open-track racing. It’s about a million times bigger, more popular and more expensive than NASCAR will ever be, but I’m convinced the two can coexist peacefully in the South. As Bill Elliot would say, “Raaaacin’s raaaacin’.”

I took it upon myself, at no cost to the taxpayer, to design the Grand Prix de Greensboro course, but I have since tweaked it just a tad. At that time we were still playing baseball in War Memorial Stadium, but now (with apologies to Irwin Smallwood, who proposes we move the façade to the coliseum) I’d like to see it as Victory Lane. Let’s turn the old ballyard into the garage area/pit row and have the winner celebrate with the façade in the background. There’s some serious branding, not to mention a sense of history.

The start/finish line will be at the intersection of Wendover and Parkway at Latham Park, a block from Al Thomy’s home. It will be called the Al Thomy Line, as partial payback for leaving the dean of North Carolina motorsports writers out of the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame for three straight years. Heading west, the F1 racers will have an uphill straightaway before a slight S-curve takes them to their first chicane, the cloverleaf onto Westover Terrace. Then they’ll head downhill past Grimsley to a 90 degree left onto Benjamin Parkway. Crossing the railroad tracks (which will have to be smoothed out) they’ll bear right then left down Smith Street, wave at First Horizon Park, and hit some slightly banked curves as Smith turns into Murrow Blvd. This gives the announcers a chance to say, “I didn’t realize Edward R. Murrow was from Greensboro, did you, Sterling?” further enhancing our historical significance.

Then they’ll take a hard left onto Lindsay for a quarter-mile straightaway before gearing down for another left onto Yanceyville by the old ballyard. Then they’ll zig-zag over to another chicane back onto Wendover and dash back to the finish line.

Obviously, there are details to be worked out with the sanctioning body, sponsorships, street closures, publicity, TV rights, etc. but it’s worth looking into.

Let’s not keep repeating the same mistake again and again. This is our ticket to the big time.

Ogi can be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com.

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