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by Tony Sakkis

The pit straight at the circuit Hermanos Rodriguez is splattered with paint from different racing sponsors like corporate graffiti. The bumps along the massive ribbon of pavement are almost visible from the stands, now a permanent part of the roof over the pit complex.

Five years of neglect have taken their toll, and the track, which is situated just south of the Mexico City International Airport, looks far removed from the world of Grand Prix racing it once hosted.

The track, like everything else in Mexico City, is built upon a large lake which tends to expand and contract during the different seasons. On the soil where old churches still stand that means the ground sinks; buildings are sucked up by the Mexican earth and sit ten feet below their original level; at Circuito Hermanos Rodriguez it means the asphalt buckles and shifts like a thin ribbon of whipped cream left on a freshly baked cake. The Formula One fraternity abandoned the circuit in 1993 and it has been relegated to national events again.

Besides the different open-wheeled series which have been around before and since the Grand Prix came and went, the circuit has recently played host to the Neon Cup, a series which, like the now-defunct VW Cup and the Renault Challenge, is based around a single model car with strict rules as to what can and can't be modified. There were some 44 entries on the first weekend in July, and the stands were populated respectably, but not overwhelmingly.

The well-funded entries -- entries sponsored by some fairly significant manufacturers from Tecate Beer to Coppertone Suntan Lotion and Herdez Salsas -- started the 55 lap race with a good deal of pomp and circumstance (with a NASCAR style introduction of each driver and several parade laps) and proceeded to bump and grind around the 2.75 miles of the national circuit.

The crowd was pleased to have anything run on the great old track again -- even Dodge Neons. And the winner of the race was a driver completely unknown anywhere but in Mexico. The results made the news on Mexican TV and the race was given a good deal of air time. It was, of course, the only game in a town that loves its motorsports. And, with all due respect, although the racing was good and tight, it wasn't Grand Prix racing. And it certainly wasn't an impressive enough event to have made a positive affect on the upkeep of the circuit.

When one looked around it was hard not to notice the longing. Hats with the green and red colors of Adrian Fernandez's Tecate/Quaker State Indy Car were everywhere, and old Mexican Grand Prix T-shirts still peppered the stands with frequency. Neon Cup's tight racing notwithstanding, Mexico is a country without a race. And now, without a race, it is becoming a country without a major league circuit -- which is a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Mexican racing promoters hope to have a Formula One Grand Prix back in Mexico again soon. And it seems likely to happen. The market is huge, the fan base is there and the city itself -- contrary to what you may have heard -- is as spectacular as any in the world. The track will be expensively resurfaced and for a few seasons it will play host to the pinnacle of racing ... only to blend back into the environment a few short seasons later.