United States Grand Prix, Laguna Seca - Cat Tales

See You At The USGP - Laguna Seca

Tim Carrithers is resolute: "If it's like it was last year, I'd rather watch it on TV."

The "it" Tim is referring to is the United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Those who suffered through the nightmare traffic in 2005 and the triple-digit temperatures in 2006 know exactly why he's considering staying home.

It looks so magical on television as the helicopter beams aerial shots of the storied circuit into our living rooms. Nicky Hayden passes Chris Vermuelen for the lead, the crowd cheers, the winner does a teary-eyed victory lap draped in an American flag and our chests swell with pride as "The Star Spangled Banner" booms from the P.A. speakers. What the TV doesn't show are the endless lines for overpriced food and souvenirs, the four-hour wait for the shuttle bus, the dust in our eyes and the bottom line on our hotel bills, three times what they'd cost any other weekend.

Still, it's our one chance to see the MotoGP circus in person, to cheer for Americans Hayden, Edwards, Hopkins and Roberts, and to hear the near-20,000-rpm shriek of the 800cc fours in person. So we've gotta go, this year more than ever.

If the old baseball adage "three strikes and you're out" applies, this is the make-or-break year for the USGP. Despite the fact that the 2007 event will be only the third in a five-year contract, it could possibly be the last. According to rampant rumors and at least one published report, MotoGP promoters Dorna and the FIM have told Laguna Seca's promoters, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, that they need to put on a world-class event this year or else.

To SCRAMP's credit, the non-profit organization (with help from Yamaha) has spent many millions upgrading the facilities. But the painful truth is that despite being located in the richest country on earth, Laguna Seca is one of MotoGP's poorest venues, paling in comparison to sparkling new facilities in supposed third-world countries such as China, Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar.

Meanwhile, that most hallowed of all American racetracks, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is negotiating to bring MotoGP to the Heartland. In addition to its celebrated Indycar and NASCAR races, the Brickyard has been hosting a round of the Formula One World Championship since the year 2000 and would like to add a motorcycle event in 2009, its centenary year, to celebrate the fact that the first-ever event held at the track was a motorcycle race (won by the legendary Erwin "Cannonball" Baker on an Indian, for those who care about such things).

The biggest obstacle is the track. Select AMA teams have tested at Indy and pronounced the existing road course unacceptable, due to the fact that it incorporates Turns 1 and 2 of the super-speedway, with its immovable walls waiting to collect a fallen rider. But FIM inspector Claude Danis has also visited the track and come up with a workable solution: The road course would be run in the opposite direction from F1 and a new infield section built to eliminate the banking. Considering that the speedway built the road course just to host F1, they'd almost certainly be willing to modify it to get a MotoGP date. And by that we don't mean the haybales, traffic cones and 55-gallon drums the AMA has traditionally employed to reconfigure super-speedways for motorcycle racing.

At present, the plan is for Indy to join Laguna Seca as a second USGP, but reading between the lines, one gets the feeling it's just as likely to replace it. And with both Barber and Miller negotiating to host World Superbike rounds, Laguna Seca could be left with nothing more than an AMA national, which assuredly won't attract the 144,000 spectators the 2006 USGP did.

All of which is a long way of saying you should make the effort to go to the USGP this year. If not, don't complain when you have to watch it on TV.