PIR 50th Anniversary Celebration Recognizing PIR Key Influencers
In celebration of Phoenix International Raceway's Golden Anniversary, 'Storied Legends’ will take a deep dive into the personalities that helped shape the track into what we know it as today. From broadcast partners, to record setting drivers to owners – over the next 52 weeks, you will be able to learn about the people and the organizations who created PIR’s history one lap at a time.
We invite you to check back in every Thursday as we reveal the next 'Storied Legend' on the list!
No 37 Nigel Mansell
This week at No. 38 on PIR’s ‘Storied Legends’ is iconic driver Nigel Mansell. Visiting Phoenix International Raceway in 1993and 1994 while racing in the CART Indy Car World Series, Nigel made quite the lasting impression.
At the end of the 1993 season he was the reigning F1 champion and became the first driver to win the CART title in his debut season, which also made him the only driver to hold both the F1 title and the CART title simultaneously. That first season, and his first visit to PIR, created an international media frenzy that became known as ‘Mansell Mania.’
The following excerpt, ‘Mansell Mania’ Sweeps into PIR, is from the new book ‘Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing.’ The piece was written by Arizona Republic motorsports writer Michael Knight, who was the public relations director for Newman/Haas Racing and managed Mansell’s media schedule while for the team during that period, including the 1993 championship season.
‘Mansell Mania’ Sweeps into PIR
By Michael Knight
Thursday, January 7, 1993, was one of the most significant days in Phoenix International Raceway’s first 50 years – even though there wasn’t a race and not a single spectator was in the grandstands.
However, 90 media members from nine countries were present. They were there to watch one man. And, the U.S. premier of the worldwide phenomenon known as “Nigel Mania.”
England’s Nigel Mansell, the 1992 Formula 1 champion, was doing the majority of motorsports experts thought inconceivable – if not outright crazy; Driving an Indy car on an oval.
Mansell – after a then-record breaking 1992 season with nine victories and 14 poles – had shocked the racing world by becoming the first reigning F1 champion to leave the glamorous and lucrative international Grand Prix circuit to pursue America’s national open-wheel championship. He left the Williams-Renault team for Newman/Haas Racing and the CART-sanctioned PPG Indy Car World Series. It was a bold and historic move by the driver Ferrari fans proclaimed Il Leone (The Lion) and more than one publication headlined as “The People’s Champion.”
David Letterman called him “the Michael Jordan of auto racing.”
Sports Illustrated wrote that he was “the most daring race car driver in the world.”
The style stirred the public’s passions. ‘Mansell Mania’ was no PR gimmick.
Newman/Haas co-owner Paul Newman, the legendary actor and racer, called Mansell’s switch “The Great Adventure.”
Newman’s partner Carl A. Haas surveyed the media scene and said to him team publicist, (me), “I think this ('Mansell Mania') might be bigger than we thought.”
Mansell had made some preliminary shake-down runs earlier in the week on Firebird International Raceway (now Wild Hours Pass Motorsports Park) rad course on the other end of the Valley. But, business got serious at PIR, his official debut and first laps on an oval track. Newman, Haas, and Mansell’s buddy, golfing great Greg Norman, were on hand for parts of the testing.
Mansell took to PIR that Thursday afternoon in an older 1992-model Kmart/Havoline Lola Ford-Cosworth. The Indy car weighed 500 pounds more than the Williams, had a turbocharged engine and a manual transmission. A bit over 70 laps later, he got down to 21.4 seconds, a half-second off the track record set by Michael Andretti, who left Newman/Haas for the McLaren F1 team.
By the end of the pre-season testing, Mansell had set unofficial track records at PIR, Firebird, Sebring International Raceway and the now-styled Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The first race in 1993 was on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, where Mansell became the first driver to win both the pole and the race in his Indy car debut.
Then it was back to Phoenix April 3 for the oval rookie.
To read the full story of ‘Mansell Mania’ – including the results of his first race at PIR in April, 1993 – along with the complete history of PIR’s first 50 years, pick up a copy of ‘Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing.’ Copies of the commemorative coffee table book, which retails for $49.95, will be available at merchandise locations throughout the track during the upcoming The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend.
Be sure and check back next Wednesday as we reveal No. 36 on the list!
Join the conversation with fellow PIR Fans by visiting Facebook www.facebook.com/PhoenixRaceway or on Twitter @PhoenixRaceway #PIR50TH #STORIEDLEGENDS.