SST Series Brings (Awesome!) New Dimension To Belle Isle Grand Prix
By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – When it comes to auto racing, it’s better to show than to tell.
That is why executives took just 11 minutes to discuss the addition of the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Truck (SST) Series to the 2014 Bell Isle Grand Prix and the event’s recent partnership of Palace Sports & Entertainment.
After brief comments, everyone moved outside, shivering in sub-freezing temperatures as snow started to fall outside the Palace of Auburn Hills and a 600-horsepower neon orange SST Series truck idled loudly nearby.
32-year-old driver Arie Luyendyk, Jr., hopped in through the window of the vehicle and started giving rides to media members, whose entrance through the passenger side window was inevitably much less graceful. Once the first visitor got in, Luyendyk took off, zooming all over the various expanses of the parking lot. Parked cars closer to the arena blocked the view of me and the other spectators – until, that is, Luyendyk jumped the truck off a median.
“Holy s—!” exclaimed an executive standing beside me. Evidently he and the others had not seen this coming.
Truly my father’s daughter, raised on Car & Driver since before I could walk, I was thrilled. Not too much later – after 6-foot-9 former Piston Earl Cureton tried to squeeze into the tiny truck but could not quite fit – it was my turn.
Hampered by my puffy, long winter coat and high-heeled boots, I clambered laboriously into the window, scooted into the seat and got tightly belted in. With no further ado, Luyendyk hit the gas.
The tires squealed, leaving black tracks on the pavement. As we tore around the parking lot, seemingly speeding right toward light poles and dodging them at the last second, bumping over medians and literally flying into the air over others, the fleeting thought crossed my mind that this ride could be somewhat dangerous.
In fact, it was incredible, like a roller coaster but more intense and with a real threat of death – but in a good way.
When Luyendyk sped the car back toward the atrium, he did a few donuts right in front of the building, spinning the vehicle around before coming to a stop. The group waiting there was completely delighted.
“We could hear you screaming over the sound of the car,” one man explained. “That’s pretty impressive!”
If you had not already gathered as much from the previous description already, the SST Series involves much more than the constant left turns associated with NASCAR. The SST Series trucks run an off-road course, going up to 120 miles per hour and getting as high as 15 feet in the air while covering 75 feet or more as they fly off various ramps.
The truck races will also be much shorter than what fans might be used to from NASCAR or IndyCar races.
“Our format’s a lot like Supercross, to where we have qualifying and then we have a couple heat races that are really short, depending on the track length, and then we have a main event,” Luyendyk said. “For the Detroit Grand Prix, we’ll actually have two races.
“The drivers have to go all out because they only have a few laps to get to the front, so that makes the racing, I think, a little bit more intense because you have to take a lot of risk as a driver to win the race,” Luyendyk added. “You’re not going to win it on strategy or attrition. You have to drive hard.”
Luyendyk, perhaps best known as the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, Sr., and even more famous for his turn on reality TV show The Bachelorette, drove IndyCars before he started with the SST Series.
“The trucks are so much fun to drive,” Luyendyk said. “I’ve never jumped anything in my life – not a snowboard, not a skateboard, and going into last year, I was pretty nervous about that. There’s nothing like flying through the air and landing perfectly and racing door-to-door with a lot of these guys.
“The way the truck can fly off the jumps and how softly it lands if you do land correctly and just how much power they have … it really leaves it to the driver because you’re constantly having to modulate the throttle and you’re having to make sure you’re lined up for the jumps,” Luyendyk continued. “It adds a whole new element to racing that I haven’t been used to before.”
To Luyendyk, the format and features of the SST Series have such appeal that they might not be so unique for long.
“I really feel like this is the way motor sports is going – shorter races, action-packed, diverse drivers,” Luyendyk said. “I think that’s what it brings to the table, and I think it’s pretty cool.”