One of the few Formula One racers who bought their way into the sport, Nicholas Andreas Lauda was born in 1949 in Vienna. His father was a paper manufacturer who had managed to amass a fortune for his family – a fortune which Nicholas never saw. His family shunned his desire to be a racing driver and refused to support him in an effort to bring him to his senses. But Niki was strong-willed. He skipped university and borrowed money from various Austrian banks in order to get himself in the races. He started his career in 1968 in a Mini and before long was attempting to race Formula Vee and Formula Three. His early racing career was somewhat dismal and he often crashed – which was a problem since it meant he was one car less and had few winnings with which to repay the money he had borrowed.
In 1972, Niki Lauda bought his way into Formula Two and Formula One with yet another loan. The Marches were unsuccessful and not only did they leave him virtually bankrupt, but they didn’t help his reputation as a driver either. With no other qualifications to turn to, Niki was forced to keep racing. So, the following year he managed to make a deal with BRM which put him in the driver’s seat once more. Before long his results started improving and his true worth as a driver became evident. BRM offered him a new contract but instead he chose to buy his way out his contract with money from Enzo Ferrari who had also offered him a contract.
The following year found Lauda racing for Ferrari. Within his first year he garnered the nickname ‘The Computer’ and though he was doing well, he still made some costly mistakes. However, his saving grace for the year came in the form of two different Formula One victories. Over the next few years he enjoyed numerous victories around the world. Then, in 1976 his car suddenly crashed and burst into flames. He suffered third degree burns on his head and wrists as well as numerous broken bones and scorched lungs. Doctors gave him up for dead and he was even read his last rites by a priest. Somehow, Niki Lauda not only recovered, but he returned to racing just six weeks later. He finished fourth in the Italian Grand Prix – his first race since the accident – and his bandages were seeping blood by the end of the event. His comeback was hailed as the most courageous in sporting history. From that time forward, Niki always wore a red baseball cap to hide some of his facial disfigurements.
In 1978, after winning two championships, he proclaimed he was bored and he walked out on the sport to start his own airline. Though his airline did well he eventually found himself needing more money and so he returned to racing for this purpose. He signed a US$5 million contract with McLaren and won his final Grand Prix in 1985, after which he retired from the racing car cockpit for good. In 2008, American sports television network ESPN ranked him 22nd on their prestigious list of top drivers of all-time. Lauda will always be remembered for his startling recovery, his plucky attitude and his die-hard work ethic.
If you live in Florida, get ready to enjoy all the excitement and action at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Held annually in St. Petersburg, Florida, this fantastic Indy Racing League IndyCar Series is broadcast on ESPN or ABC – but nothing compares to being right where the action is!
The city of St. Petersburg is certainly no stranger to fast cars and a festive atmosphere. The first race in the city took place in 1985. After that it took place regularly at the downtown waterfront circuit until 1990. The city took a short break from racing and started up again in 1996 when the cars ran on a short course around the Tropicana Field for two years. The main race of the day was the SCCA Trans-Am Series. Other races, such as the U.S. FF2000, the World Challenge, the Barber Dodge and the Pro SRF, were also held here. Unfortunately the new course was not considered to be satisfactory and so St Petersburg was again left without the sound of powerful engines roaring around a track at top speeds. In 2003 the city saw a racing revival with Champ Cars that lasted for only one year. It was only in 2005 that IndyCar racing really started to pick up momentum in this great city.
When IndyCar racing returned to St Peterburg in 2005, the race took place on a non-oval track and it was the first non-oval race course to form part of the IndyCar series. The course is currently a street circuit that connects the two landing strips of the Albert Whitted Airport. The course runs up 1st Street and makes its way back down near the beachfront before returning to the airport. The entire circuit encompasses Pioneer Park, the Bayfront Center and the IRL Paddock. At this point in time a Ballpark has been proposed for the area inside the course. As this ballpark is built, it may give cause to disrupt, change or even cancel the race in the future. Fans, however, hope that the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will suffer no further setbacks.
The 2008 race is scheduled to take place from the 4th to the 6th of April. Tickets range from $10 (for juniors) to $110 for the best seats in the house. So get your ticket now and make sure that you don’t miss out on this great IndyCar series action!