PHOENIX — Is there naivete in the Valley of the Sun, or has Phoenix been taken in an international con job?
The city has anted close to $3 million to bring 39 Formula One drivers and cars from 12 countries to race for two hours Sunday in the United States Grand Prix over a 2.36-mile circuit laid out on downtown streets.
And city officials have promised to spend upward of $5 million more to bring them back for four more years.
They also gave Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone all TV rights to the race.
The reasons, in theory, are publicity and profit--to get Phoenix on worldwide TV, to spread its dateline around the world in newspapers and magazines and to attract jet-setting race fans who will bring vast sums of money into the community, where they will eat, sleep and party for a few days.
Neither idea sits well with operators of two of the area's existing race facilities, Phoenix International Raceway and Firebird Raceway.
"As someone who has lived here all my life, as well as promoting racing, the deal the city made really bothers me," said Dennis Wood, operations consultant and former owner of PIR. "It was so unnecessary to accomplish what they say they want.
"We showcase the finest racing in the country--Indy cars, Winston Cup stock cars and sprint cars--in three major events that are televised nationally. And we've never received a single cent in subsidy from the city. Never in the track's history. And we've never asked for any. Buddy Jobe owns the raceway now, and he spends his own money to put on attractive races, as I did before him."
Charlie Allen, owner-proprietor of Firebird, expressed the same sentiments.
"We conduct racing every week of the year at Firebird, and our major drag races and boat races are seen on TV and carry Phoenix's name on the news wires," Allen said. "We estimate we generate $8 million to $11 million to the economy of the area.
"I think it's real wrong that the city is spending the taxpayers' money to subsidize a race like this just to stroke some city officials' egos. If they want to subsidize racing, why don't they do something for us, or PIR. Our racing is better than anything they're likely to see Sunday."
Another stated reason for bringing the race here, although it lacks a great deal of validity when it means sitting or standing in the sun on a 100-degree day, is that the race gives residents of the Valley of the Sun the chance to see Formula One cars at race speeds.
They were given an opportunity to watch them free Friday, a decision that was made partially to accommodate office workers inside the race course who did not feel like paying admission to go to work. Only a smattering of spectators lined the fences to watch the first round of qualifying, dominated as usual by Brazilian Ayrton Senna at 94.287 m.p.h.
Senna has been the pole-sitter for the last seven Formula One races, and 11 of the last 12, in his McLaren-Honda.
Today, though, it starts to cost big money to watch.
Standing room is $25 today, $35 on Sunday. Grandstand seats for the weekend range from $85 to $200. Only the $200 seats have an awning cover.
Corporate boxes cost $6,000 each for 12 seats, and Paddock Club Suites, which are located above the 40 garages built to accommodate the race cars and crews, cost $25,000 each for 40 people.
Much of the city's original investment went to build the permanent garages and a two-story operations tower. The open-air garages will be used later as a covered parking lot for city employees.
Another $300,000 was allocated for overtime pay for the police and fire departments. Much of that is going to a special fire department unit and the Good Samaritan Medical Center, which is anticipating a number of heat prostration cases.
Coincidentally, the center is across the alley from A. L. Moore & Son Mortuary.
"Not intentional, I can assure you," said one fireman with a sweaty grin.
The funeral home is inside the track fencing, which severely curtails its business, according to Bill Gumbert, manager.
"We have two other places in the area to accommodate our customers, but the race certainly has a negative impact on our business," Gumbert said. "If the city had been a bit more considerate at the beginning, I would look more favorably on it, but we have been supportive of the downtown area since 1906, and we had no input into the planning.
"Even answering our phones has been difficult, because the noise is so intense."
Another who complained about the noise from 650-horsepower engines reverberating among the high-rise buildings along Washington and Jefferson streets was Ralph Johnson, who operates a shoeshine stand a block from the course.
"Most of my customers come here to sit and talk while I'm putting on the spit-and-polish," Johnson said. "With all this damn noise, we can't hear a thing."
Worse than the noise, according to many downtown workers, was the chain-link fencing that surrounds the course.