American Grand PrizeEdit
In 1950, the FIA decided that for their fledgling World Championship, there needed to be at least one race outside of Europe. So for the first eleven years of the series, full points were awarded to the oldest and largest race outside of Europe, the Indianapolis 500. Very little mention was made of most of the drivers competing at Indianapolis had never heard of the FIA series, and that nothing about the 500 conformed to the rules of the rest of the Championship.
Only two drivers attempted to "cross over": Alberto Ascari tried to qualify at Indianapolis once, and Rodger Ward brought his Indy roadster to the 1959 United States Grand Prix, where he thought that the car would be more nimble than the F1 cars. He was dramatically proven wrong, qualifying last in a field of 19, more than 43 seconds behind polesitter Stirling Moss.
After a genuine United States Grand Prix began running in 1959, and survived a bumpy start, the 500 was quietly dropped from the 1961 and subsequent calendars.
The actual United States Grand Prix started out in 1958 as a sports car race at Riverside, as single-seater road racing cars were in short supply in the US. After the organizers proved that they were capable of running an event, then an actual Grand Prix was scheduled for 1959. But to reduce travel expenses, the race was moved 3,000 miles east, to Sebring, Florida. But Sebring proved to be too far from any major metropolitan areas, and the event lost money.
In 1960, the second try was back in Riverside, where a huge crowd had turned out for the sports car race two years earlier. But this time, the race was just a week after another heavily-promoted sports car race, and the major newspaper of the Los Angeles area barely mentioned the Grand Prix. The meager crowd placed the organizers in a hole financially.
The third try was the charm. Watkins Glen, New York might be tiny in and of itself, but within a day's drive there were more than 20 million people. The city had held very successful races though the town streets and on surrounding roads just after the war, and the need to move the racing to a permanent circuit did not diminish the popularity of the racing. The third Formula One incarnation of the event, now titled the Grand Prix of the United States, drew a large and enthusiastic throng. Formula One had found a home in the US.
The race was held at Watkins Glen 20 times, and after the 1970 race, the track received a makeover and expansion. At the time the track was hailed as the finest road racing circuit in the world, but time and diminishing crowds started to wear the track out. Consecutive years with poor weather, in 1979 and 1980 put the track in financial jeopardy, and when the organizers defaulted on the prize money after the 1980 race, the track was dropped from the calendar, never to return.
* The 1958 event was exclusively for sports cars.