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Days Like These Are Why I Love Cars

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

There’s no better place to be than the race track during a major motorsport series event. Nothing else comes close to the sound, smell, and experience of putting your boots on and walking around the circuit, mere yards from some of the best drivers in the world showing what they’re capable of. This weekend at Mid Ohio I was reminded exactly why I loved cars and racing. I would argue that there isn’t another hobby which infiltrates you down to your pores quite like racing, and that’s why I love it.

I wasn’t really all that interested in cars growing up, but once I fell into the world of motorsport, I was hooked. I lived in Spain at the height of Fernando Alonso’s Renault supremacy, and that country’s fervor for its F1 champ cemented in me how important racing could actually be. I went to my first open-wheel race in 2007, the Grand Prix at Indianapolis, and I haven’t been the same since. There’s something about attending a racing event that just grabs me; the history, the noise, the excitement, the gravitas, the pomp and circumstance. It’s all just a magnificent display of speed and bravery, and it always has been.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

This weekend I took a sojourn down to the famed Mid Ohio circuit to watch the IndyCar series make its hybrid racing debut. Part of me was hoping it would be a noteworthy race to write about, as the series pushed a simple superconductor-based system into a car that wasn’t designed for it. As it happens, this was possibly the least exciting race of the 2024 IndyCar season so far, and the only major failure of the race was Scott Dixon’s car losing all electrical power on the warm-up lap and coasting to a stop.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Aside from that small incident, the race went on exactly like any other IndyCar race has for over a decade. It was a clean race without any crashes or cautions. Out front it was a battle of inches with Indy 500 near-miss Pato O’Ward fighting two-time (soon to be three-time?) champ and defending Mid Ohio winner Alex Palou. It was a straight-forward race with Palou dominating the early proceedings, but O’Ward finding pace in the second half and leapfrogging the Spaniard to the lead with an undercut at the final round of pit stops. A good race, but not a great one. It was nice to see Pato finally get an on-track win after two years of poor form, bad luck, and nearly theres. I was at Indy for his heartbreak, and while a Mid Ohio win isn’t going to wash over that difficult race loss, it’ll help.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Yeah, it’s great to see a couple dozen hybrid open wheel racing cars rip around a circuit that remains largely unchanged since it opened in 1962 (and the facilities reflect that) but what’s really great are the stories, the fans, the common appreciation of these ridiculous men and women who just want to go really fast for a while. Thousands of us came together to watch this race in person, an objectively worse race-viewing experience than watching it on television. It’s that shared passion that makes me so excited.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

I took the 911 down to the track, it’s about two hours south from the Cleveland lakeshore. I stopped for brunch to grab some Sheetz (the spicy chicken wrap is unbeatable road trip food) on the way, and loaded up on hydration. I’m inching closer to 40, and the three-pronged assault of sunscreen, big straw hat, and Gatorade is now a prerequisite for a long day at the race track.

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The line to get in was longer than I think I’ve ever seen it, and this has to have been the largest crowd I’ve witnessed at Mid Ohio before. I’ve been to this track for NASCAR, IMSA, Grand Am, vintage races, motorcycles, and IndyCar in the past, and this crowd beat them all, as near as I can remember. Attendance figures haven’t been released yet, but I’d be surprised if it weren’t a recent record.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Before the race I strolled through the paddock to see what interesting hybrid-related things I could catch. As it turns out, not much. But I did spot Team Penske’s crew of Honda EZ90 pit bikes. It’s interesting that these still look basically brand new, despite having been discontinued in 1996 (and Penske being a Chevrolet team since 2012). Most of the other teams have moved on to newer small-bore motorcycles and e-bikes to get around the paddock, but Penske sticks to the tried and true.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Speaking of tried and true, Honda still uses S2000s for the driver introduction parade around the circuit. It’s time for Honda to introduce a new convertible, if only just for this purpose. Maybe they could cut the roof off a few of those Preludes to make new driver intro cars for the 2025 Honda Indy 200 Presented By The Civic Hybrid.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

I sat in the stands at the outside of turn 4 for the start, but I had my Hokas on for a reason, and about five laps in I started hiking. The course is relatively short for a permanent circuit at just 2.25 miles, but there’s a ton of elevation change, and I wanted to get around to see every corner during my time at the track. There’s just so much to see at Mid Ohio, as the course incorporates hills, valleys, long drag-race straights, flowing curves, and tight 180-degree corners. They just don’t make race tracks like this anymore.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Honda brought out a few of its show cars to show off in the paddock, including a Hasport-operated Insight track car, a Rebelle Rally entry, and this NSX Type S with matching trailer from the recent One Lap Of America. Acura often lets the stateside vehicle engineers spearhead skunkworks racing projects like this one, and the various Pikes Peak projects. It’s a cool aspect of the company that makes me respect them just a little bit more.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

It’s been a while since I had a good day at the races like this one. If you haven’t been, I can’t recommend it enough.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Pato was even kind enough to wave at me when he drove by after the finish. What a nice guy.

Image: Bradley Brownell
Image: Bradley Brownell

Here’s a trivia question for you. Why are the roofs of all of the buildings at Mid Ohio painted red? If you think you know, drop it in the comments.

Days like this one just feel good. For one thing I just love a good walk in the park, and to get in some vitamin D while watching some great racing is purely a bonus. After a few hours at the track I feel a closer connection to the community of racing lovers all gathered in one spot, I feel more in tune with the internal combustion engine, having bathed in its fumes for hours. I am re-energized and ready for the next one! Who’s coming with me?

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