Formula 1 Before the Beautiful People

Note: Another guest submission by Patrick King. -TK
Now that the Big Three road and street races in this part of Florida are behind us my attention turns to media coverage and in-person access at Formula One events in the current year compared to days past. This weekend, F1 TV Pro will present me with six hours of on-track activity from Italy, plus endless commentary before and after each practice/qualifying/sprint session and the race itself, in stereo though my Klipsch speakers – unbroken by commercials – for a prorated cost of $2.83. To show my appreciation, here’s the official name of the Grand Prix formerly known as Imola:


My interest in Formula One has waxed and waned since the early sixties, spiking at milestones like Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix” and camping at Watkins Glen to watch Jackie Stewart run away from the field in 1970 only to be felled by a broken oil line in his first race with the new Tyrrell 001, allowing an unknown youngster named Emerson Fittipaldi to win his first Grand Prix. Later, the Canadian Grand Prix became my home F1 race, Montreal being less than a five hour drive from Boston.

Naturally, when the Miami Grand Prix came to light I immediately put my name on the waiting list. The day BEFORE tickets were to go on sale the organizers emailed to let me know that the event was sold out. Just as well, because for ~ $350, a fraction of the single bleacher seat ticket price at the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, I got to enjoy a four-day pass to the Rolex 24 at Daytona (which included the Roar), a three-day pass to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and a four-day pass with infield parking at the WEC/IMSA Super Sebring weekend. Besides, I’ve never watched a road race from a grandstand in my life and can’t imagine ever doing so. Instead, I upgraded my home viewing options with the addition of F1 TV Pro. A few days ago a limited number of “campus” tickets – otherwise know as general admission – went on sale for $900 a pop. No doubt they’ve all been snapped up by now.

Fifty-two years have vaporized since I first set foot at a Formula One event, the aforementioned 1970 Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Standard procedure back then involved rounding up two or three friends and packing them into my 1971 Colorado orange BMW 2002, often at the last minute, and driving the 379 miles from Boston to the Glen, buying tickets at the gate. We’d live in and around the car for a muddy few days then trek back home, eventually making it to class at Mass Art, Harvard or Holy Cross. The color photos were taken in 1974, the year made famous by “The Bog Wants a Bus.”

The black & white photos from 1976 were taken in the middle of the night inside the Kendall Tech center at the Glen where for $2.00 – with nobody but a single, sleepy security guard around – one could literally reach out and touch Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, Mario Andretti’s Lotus, James Hunt’s McLaren or Jody Scheckter’s six-wheel Tyrrell. It seems unimaginable that such an experience ever happened, but it did.

The sums involved in Formula One today stagger the mind. From

“According to Mercedes-AMG’s yearly report, as told by Motorsport, it took $459 million to make sure Lewis Hamilton and the Brackley squad won their seventh respective world titles.”

Naturally, tickets to a one-percenter gala like the one in Miami Gardens start at $900 (with no place to sit down) for the privilege of mingling with the greats, the near greats and the ingrates for a day. The broader theme – today’s wealth gap – affects more than motorsports but in the decades since Formula One made its last appearance at the Glen I’ve found ways to satisfy my need for the smell of racing fuel and the sound of popping downshifts that simply doesn’t translate via mic to my TV… without breaking the bank. For instance: the Roar, with its infield parking and garage access. Or 8:00 Friday morning at St. Pete when the first IndyCar ladder series hits the track against the stunning backdrop of Tampa Bay. Or Super Sebring, with back-to-back world-class enduros and tons of support races.

Grumpy old fartism aside, I eagerly await the Miami Grand Prix, which I’ll enjoy from my sofa. Check out this virtual flyover/flythrough of the Miami International Autodrome nearing completion for the first of two visits the Formula One circus will make to the States in 2022 – May 6 through 8 – with a third to follow on the Vegas strip in 2023.

A world away from slogging through a muddy forest to watch the Wee Scott streak by a dozen feet away with nobody in sight behind him, no?

19 Replies to “Formula 1 Before the Beautiful People”

  1. Kevin B.

    Love your pictures from Watkins Glen and yes, those were simpler (better?) times for sure. I can’t fathom spending $900 to see F1 racing where you can pretty much predict who will win the race before it starts. I was at 24 hours at Daytona this year and it was incredible (although chilly). Also a better form of racing with multiple classes, a lot of passing, etc.

  2. bluebarchetta

    The Rolex 24 is an amazing bargain, isn’t it? I went this year for the first time and will definitely go back. Great racing, not too crowded, and an excuse to go to Florida in January.

    F1 is fascinating, but if you buy before mid-March, you can get a season pass to every Mid-Ohio event (including grandstand seating, paddock pass, and infield parking) for slightly more than a Sunday-only ticket to F1 at COTA. My wife won’t let me cancel Netflix (it has become the modern Hallmark Channel), so I’ll get my F1 fix from Drive to Survive.

    • Bob S.

      I wanted to go to the F1 race in Miami, as my girlfriend’s daughter and daughter’s husband live there. We were down there for Christmas, and I idly checked on the availability of tickets, figuring they hadn’t even gone on sale yet. I was shocked to see they were already sold out, and that the resale market was about $1500 per ticket! No thanks.

      I live in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, which is only about 20 minutes from the Daytona International Speedway. I go to the Rolex race every year, and it is both a great event and a bargain! I took my girlfriend to her first car race (NASCAR xfinity series) at the Speedway in August 2021 and she loved it. Also took her to this year’s Rolex, and despite the very cold weather on Saturday, she loved that one, too. She’s even watching “Drive to Survive” with me on Netflix. Definitely a keeper.

  3. Carmine

    Every time I kept reading “Miami Grand Prix” I keep thinking of the original Miami Grand Prix that was run through downtown on Biscayne Blvd and through Bicentennial Park from 1983-1988 or so, true that it was not really a “Grand Prix” since the cars were GTU and GTP cars, with the killer Lowenbrau Porsche 962’s among others, but it was still something that was very cool to see as a kid back in the day.

    I forget that there is now the “Miami Gardens Grand Prix of Carol City” a piss poor attempt if you ask me, the original plan was to have the cars race through downtown again, but of course, they screwed that up and now we have this.

    • Jack Baruth

      That race was, of course, the backdrop for Danny Sullivan’s star turn on Miami Vice, which included a parking-garage race on Ninja 600s!

      • Carmine

        Yes! Plus a pretty cool chase in the pre-credits with a real Porsche 904 vs Crocketts Burnie Daytona replica.

      • Patrick King

        And in a subsequent episode, Sonny Crockett leans over the kid (his?) he’s teaching to shift the Testarossa and says, “That was great, just like Danny Sullivan!”

        • Carmine

          Yes, it was a in episode a few seasons later with the white (real) Ferrari with Crockett’s often not-seen since the 1st season son.

  4. stingray65

    Fun photos and a nice but too brief description of a very different time. When I see photos of old race cars and old race tracks I am reminded of why I find modern racing so boring. The cars, tracks, and drivers are all much safer today, and like most Volvos safety is boring, which I might still tolerate once in while just to get the sensation of speed that can only be felt live and in-person, but at $350 or $900 for a ticket – no thanks. If I’m going to spend money, I’m going to Goodwood revival.

  5. Disinterested-Observer

    I watched an IMSA race from the infield and I can definitively say the paddock is where it is at. I have no idea what the mokes in the stands were thinking but I had a blast getting up close with the cars.

  6. JMcG

    I was at the Vintage GP in Watkins Glen a few years ago. It was a blast, glorious noise on a beautiful September day. I think a ticket was in the 50.00 range. Formula 1 can go jump.

    • BillG

      Vintage races are the way to go these days and the owners/drivers are usually more than happy to talk about their drives.

  7. BillG

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve attended F1 races in the past at Silverstone, Montreal and Indy. F1 has never been cheap. Brought my family of 5 to the F1 at Indy cheaper than my spouse and I could attend Montreal even back, what 15 or so years ago. Indy was by far the best deal with food and beers priced very reasonably. Even the hotels weren’t charging for minimum 3 day maximum rate as at Montreal.
    I was in Italy last year and tried to get tix for Monza. Kind of thankful that I did not as they were ~$500 just for the sat. sprint race alone!?
    These days I’m happy to attend vintage and IMSA races at Mosport and The Glen with the real fans and save my cash for slot cars 😉
    Great pics btw!

    • Patrick King

      My friends and I attended the Canadian Grand Prix three years in a row – 1996 through 1998 – starting the year after Jacques Villeneuve won the Indy 500: his first year in F1; the year he won the World Championship; and the year he (unsuccessfully) defended the championship. We attended with an organization called Grand Prix Tours International (they seem to have dropped that last word lately). Talk about a town’s enthusiasm for F1 and their hometown hero! All Jacques, all the time, everywhere!

      Six of us traveled from Boston in a Chrysler Town and County, which cemented my enthusiasm for minivans: we each sat in a leather captain’s chair with armrests, individual climate control, cup holders and great visibility. That rig (HT to Tom McCahill) easily swallowed all of our luggage as we headed to the Hotel InterContinental on Saint Antoine Street Ouest (with valet parking) and commenced to rub shoulders with Formula One drivers and team owners for the next 72 hours.

      I rode up in the elevator one night with Mika Salo, although I didn’t immediately recognize him owing to his mesmerizing Asian companion. What do you ask a Formula One driver when you’re one of three people in an elevator? Honestly, I forget exactly but I know it was a dopey, Chris Economaki-like “What are your chances tomorrow?” “As good as anyone’s,” he lied.

      Various buffet and open bar sessions hosted by the likes of Jackie Stewart, Johnny Herbert, Gerhard Berger and Ken Tyrrell filled the hours between on-track activity which we accessed via a short subway ride under the St. Lawrence River, emerging to the ripping, screaming, inconceivable violence of V8 and V10 normally aspirated F1 engines.

      One night we sat next to Al Pacino and his entourage at what was reportedly the most expensive seafood restaurant in Montreal; on another occasion it was Chez Parée, a strip club where the bouncers wear tuxedos.

      The point of all this is to note that cost the trip was NOT astronomical, well within the means of anyone gainfully employed. I’m hearing that the cost of a grandstand seat at next weekend’s Miami shindig has topped $10,000.

      Not for me! I’ll happily enjoy commercial-free hours of coverage on F1 TV Pro!

  8. goose

    Excellent article, and I heartily agree!

    Vintage racing is where it’s at!

    Camping at Watkins Glen & waking up, peering out the tent flaps to see & hear old Formula cars running practice laps in the early morning fog. The announcer’s voice echoing through the valley through the PA system. Making coffee in one of those old italian hexagonal contraptions on the BBQ.

    Being able to walk around the whole track & see everything!

    • JMcG

      I think you’ve talked me into camping this year! Ford Mustang is the featured marque, there should be some side-oilers coughing to life as an alarm clock.

    • Patrick King

      Thought you said “peeing out the tent flaps.”

      That too.

      Which reminds of the group at the next campsite one year, a girl and six or eight guys. They spent the night pairing off in their tent in various combinations.

      Of course, this was the Budwieser at the Glen; that would never happen during a Formula One weekend! 😂


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