Little known fact about John Carpenter’s classic 1981 “Escape From New York” – it was filmed in East St. Louis. Turns out the burned out husk of a city had the perfect post-apocalyptic look for the director’s dark, dystopian vision of a future big apple/prison. That, and of course it was cheaper than filming in NYC. Now IndyCar’s set to return to a place that made even Snake Pliskin demur.
It’s been a decade and a half since the series graced the greater East St. Louis area, and with good reason. IRR staff attended the last race held there in 2003 and it was so off puttingly boring that by three quarters through we felt an overwhelming urge to escape. Indeed, it was so bad that we vowed never to return – unless substantial track improvements were made.
Photo from gatewaymsp.com
During the race long lull, the bizarre all male musical number from “Escape” sprang to mind for some reason. This could be explained by the fact that the thrilling Tomas Scheckter was on track that day. He finished fourth.
Surrounded by land fill mountains of garbage, Gateway Speedway’s environment isn’t exactly Barber-esque in its beauty. Then again, scenery doesn’t make the racing, tracks do – which leads us to Gateway’s biggest problem. [Insert repetitive thumping synthesizer bass line here.]
Photo from trackforum.com
The mile and a quarter track’s situated right next to a ditch – it’s located in a wetland swamp – that runs along the backstretch. Clearly this compromised the entire layout of the facility, explaining its oddly skinny, paperclip shape. More roval than oval, the racing at Gateway failed to please, with little of the side by side racing and almost none of the constant passing other larger, properly laid out ovals like Texas and Pocono routinely provide.
Helio and Team Penske dominated the race – SPOILER ALERT – running away with it in a show we’d seen all too often before (including the two previous years’ Indy 500s). It wasn’t even close, as “Snake” Castro-Neves led the most laps in a true Hollywood style farce, except that Roger “the brain” Penske’s team were the only ones in on the joke. Had we not been in such a hurry to escape East St. Louis, we’d have rightfully demanded our money back.
Happily however, some changes and upgrades have been made since those bleak days decades ago. Obviously the speedway retained its retarded configuration, but did receive a brand new asphalt surface this summer. This may or may not improve the racing, but was deemed necessary after a test session so bizarrely topsy-turvy A.J. Foyt Racing‘s Conor Daly set the pace. Plus it’s a 500 miler which will, like the movie, dramatically take place at night.
It’s not clear if Ed Carpenter Racing will benefit from John Carpenter’s former film production, though it should be noted the two aren’t related. One thing is certain. If this year’s race is even half as entertaining as the weak sequel “Escape From LA,” then the show’ll be miles better than the last flop of a race at Gateway.
Photo from aftermoviediner.com