CIRCUITS: CARIBBEAN MOTOR RACING
Name: Caribbean motor racing
If ever there was a place where motor racing should have become established it was the Caribbean, where the image of glamour is part of the attraction for the thousands of tourists who flock to the islands every year. Several of the islands recognized the potential, none more so than the Bahamas which began hosting a Speed Weekin 1954. This was the brainchild of Captain Sherman F 'Red' Crise, who saw the idea as a means of bringing tourists to the islands. Every year the cars were transported from the United States in an ancient landing craft and there were two big events at Windsor Field, a 3.5-mile track which was laid out on the airfield on New Providence Island: The Governor's Trophy and the Nassau Trophy. The rest of the week was spent with cocktail parties and sunshine. In 1957 the events were transferred to another circuit at Oakes Field, closer to Nassau itself. The new circuits was a mile longer than the Windsor Field venue. The Nassau Speed Week was very popular with both American and European racers and the list of winners was varied and included Alfonso de Portago, AJ Foyt, Stirling Moss, Roger Penske, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, the Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, and Innes Ireland. In the early 1960s Formula Junior was added to the racing.
In 1966 the Speedweek came to an abrupt end when the United States Customs impounded the landing craft used to deliver the cars to the islands. There was an attempt to transfer the racing to Grand Bahama Island where a circuit was laid out at Freeport. This was not a success.
In the 1970s there was an attempt to revive the idea of the Speed Week on the island of Barbados at the purpose-built Bushy Park racing circuit.
The other major event in the Caribbean in the 1950s was on a street circuit in Havana, Cuba. The first event was held in February 1957 and used the famous Malecon Avenue, which runs along the waterfront in Havana. It was won by Juan-Manuel Fangio. The following year Fangio returned and the event gained worldwide recognition when the Argentine was taken hostage from a downtown hotel by Fidel Castro's guerillas trying to draw attention to their struggle to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista. The race attracted a crowd of 200,000 people but it turned into a disaster when local driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes crashed his Ferrari into the crowd, killing six people and injuring 30.
The revolution which brought Castro to power the following January forced the cancellation of the 1959 event but in 1960 the new leader organized a week of racing at the Camp Freedom military airfield (previously known as Camp Columbia). The main event was won by Stirling Moss but the week was overshadowed by the death of Ettore Chimeri who crashed his Ferrari through a barrier and plunged 150 feet into a ravine. He survived the crash but later died in hospital.
After the races at Camp Freedom the Castro regime lost interest in motor racing and the last races in Cuba were held on the Avenida del Puerto in downtown Havana in June 1962. Many Cuban refugees later fled the country and settled in Florida and they played an important role in the establishment in the 1980s of races in Miami and later the construction of the Homestead racing facility.
The best known of the Cubans was Ralph Sanchez and in 1999 he announced plans for an Indy Lights race to be held on the island of Aruba in the year 2000 at the new Aruba Motorsports Complex which was being built at Seroe, Colorado, at the southern tip of the 75sq mile island - which is just 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela. The $21m facility is being funded by the Government in an effort to boost tourism. Once a major oil center, Aruba has developed itself as a tourist destination and has an international airport, a deep water port for cruise liners, luxury hotels and casinos.
The nearby island of Curacao tried a similar plan in 1985 when it hosted a non-championship Formula 3000 event on a bumpy street circuit around Willemstad. The race was won by Dane John Nielsen in a Ralt, but it was not repeated.