FORT WORTH, Texas – Fifteen years ago, a man and his 10-year-old son traveled from Arkansas to Fort Worth, Texas. There was a race to be watched.
It was the Firestone Firehawk 600 – aka, the inaugural CART race at the 5-year-old Texas Motor Speedway, the house that Eddie Gossage built.
On Sunday, April 29, 2001, the 10-year-old and his dad arrived at TMS. They planned to see names like Andretti, Tracy, Herta, Kanaan, Castroneves, Dixon and Brack zip around the 1.5-track for the first time in person.
Instead, they waited. Then waited a little bit more.
Eventually, a voice came over the track’s PA system at noon to let them and the more than 65,000 in attendance know they could go home.
Due to poor decisions, poor communication and the potential for catastrophe from unsafe speeds, the Firestone Firehawk 600 wouldn’t take place that day, or any one after it. It remains the only postponed race to be outright canceled in the history of North American open-wheel racing before the race began.
The trophy for the race still sits unwon in an office overlooking the track.
It’s weird how little can change in 15 years. Especially the names.
Sunday afternoon, another trophy sat on a counter in an office in the TMS Media Center. It was supposed to be awarded to one of 22 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone 600 on Saturday night.
Drivers with the names of Andretti, Castroneves, Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal.
But the rains came early Saturday afternoon. Then the waiting began.
Waiting that involved as many afternoon showers as there were scheduled start times once the sun set.
After the third start time of 9:30 p.m. CT passed with no word of another one, cabin fever creeped in.
A threshold was crossed when cameras caught pole-sitter Carlos Munoz standing on pit road, holding a binder to his ear like he was talking on the phone. Rain delays with no end in sight will lead many to edge of reason.
The most reasonable occurrence of the night was a group of drivers wading into the grandstands. There they signed autographs for fans who deem the sport worthy of the wait.
That was backed by a soundtrack of jet dryers valiantly trying to dry a track, but lingering humidity and a lack of Air Titans said, “Sorry, try again tomorrow.”
So we did.
Then came the miscommunication and consternation. While not nearly as egregious as what happened in 2001, it was still awkward.
Roughly 20 minutes after the scheduled start time of 2:06 p.m. ET, crews were still on the track trying to dry out portions of the backstretch and the apron.
Graham Rahal said someone needed to “apologize to the fans.”
While Tony Kanaan said he was comfortable with whatever decision IndyCar made, after examining questionable spots on the apron (“It’s like you’d put your hand a swimming pool”) Ryan Hunter-Reay believed if Sunday were a test day, “we wouldn’t be running.”
Gossage later explained the situation, doing his best to be diplomatic about it without disparaging the series that has competed at his track for 20 years.
“I don’t think we’ve been on the same page with that particular matter,” said Gossage, with INDYCAR president of competition and operations Jay Frye sitting to his right. “That’s just a communication thing between us.
“We’re both professional peers and personal friends. (TMS) felt like the track was ready at 10:30 (a.m). INDYCAR, as best we understood, they pulled the jet trucks off the track. They were, as we understood, pleased. All of a sudden we looked up right around 1:00 (p.m.), apparently they found an issue that they felt needed to be addressed in Turn 2.
“But there was no communication. We didn’t know anything about it. So frustrating, but we’re going to work that out. It’s just one of those things. It may be our fault, it may be their fault. Let’s just say it’s our fault.”
Whoever’s fault it was, the race finally started just after 2:44 p.m. ET – 18 hours after its original time.
About four hours later, after 71 laps had been run – 30 under caution in what looked like a clear attempt to get the race to halfway – a message appeared on the Big Hoss video board and other TV screens throughout the track.
Similar to 2001, it told fans in attendance they could go home.
But in a fortunate twist, it also told them they could come back.
During a joint 20-minute conference, Gossage and Frye explained why – despite the cost to either side – the Firestone 600 of 2016 would be finished on Aug. 27.
Gossage: “Felt like that was the best way to best serve all the fans.”
Frye: “Everybody has got to come back. We want to do this for our fans. We want to finish this event.”
In that press conference – the kind absent in 2001 when CART and TMS couldn’t be farther apart – was a journalist who went to see a race 15 years ago.
Luckily, everyone will get to see a trophy awarded, even if the date inscribed on it is wrong.