Cleveland's wide-open spaces lent themselves to memorable racing. (LAT photos)
30 years ago, CART's PPG IndyCar World Series staged its first race on the temporary course at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport that opened up a whole new world to IndyCar racing.
It's a common formula today but, at the time, the idea of staging an IndyCar race on a temporary circuit – particularly one involving runways and taxiways at an operational airport – seemed fanciful at best. But in 1982 CART was actively searching for ways to expand its schedule into untapped markets, and took a gamble on a deal to run on a 2.48-mile course laid out on the grounds of Cleveland's metropolitan airport.
The bumpiness of the circuit, in combination with the stifling heat and humidity of the July 4 weekend, made the race a marathon – particularly since the inaugural race ran to 500 kilometers (311 miles). In addition, IndyCars of the time hadn't been designed with such tracks in mind, and even road racing generally was still something of a rarity (Riverside and Road America were the only other non-oval races on the IndyCar calendar that year). In fact, though, 12 of the 24 starters were still running at the end of the long and grueling afternoon, and a crowd estimated in the 55,000 range gave the event an encouraging start. Bobby Rahal, then in his rookie season of IndyCar competition, took the win – the first of his CART career – in his Truesports team's March-Cosworth.
Few would have imagined then that the Cleveland race would continue with only minor modifications for another 25 years, over the course of which its temporary layout would be the model for expansion to a wide variety of street and airport circuits for CART/IndyCar as well as America's sports car series.