A Letter To Andy Hall, ALMS Media Director

12 July 2003

Mr. Andy Hall
Director of Media and Communications
American Le Mans Series
Brazelton, Georgia, USA

Dear Andy,

I know you were a little surprised when Jeannie and I decided to skip the ALMS Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta. Certainly the two-time winners of the mythical Loyalty Award for perfect attendance in a season (that honor almost competes with my 1950 Sunday School Gold Star – but not quite) could be expected to adjust to a simple change of venue. I suppose we could have. But we chose not to, and because you and your staff have been so kind to us over the years, you deserve an explanation.

First, of course, there is the phenomenon of “non-refundable fares,” and the similar “credit card will be charged at the time of reservation.” Sure, non-refundable air fares can actually be used later, after a penalty of one hundred dollars or so, but what about Amtrak? Our question, of course, was “when will we have this opportunity again?” (To take a trip on US railroad passenger service.) The answer is “probably never.” Malcolm will wonder at that of course, but you know Andy that “life support” is a kind description of the state of such travel in this country. Then there was the Loews’ Le Enfant Plaza Hotel in DC – charged in full before the change in venue. I was not sure that amount could even be used in the future at that hotel or another Loews. I do know that other than Miami, there is no Loews elsewhere on the ALMS schedule. Miami is already booked. (Leave that one alone, OK?)

Do you remember my article after the DC race last year? I described reasons beyond racing for a visit to the United States’ capitol city. There are more beyond that – you might recall an article about our visit to Chickamauga before Petit Le Mans in 2001. Since you are a native of Virginia, you certainly know that an interest in Chickamauga might easily draw me to Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, even without an automobile race. Finally, we were unable last year to visit a high school friend of Jeannie’s who lives in Frederick, Maryland; this year we could. That clinched it. We would be on the Empire Builder from Minneapolis to Chicago, thence from there to Washington, DC on the Capitol Limited.

So we were, but as you might easily understand, we didn’t exactly make it as scheduled. We didn’t even make it on a train. We set off with a romantic notion of such travel, borrowed from Jeannie’s favorite show – “I Love Lucy.” I would have to watch the brake cord. Again, Malcolm and Graham, and certainly not Joost, could hardly comprehend the indifferent service and ratty equipment of passenger rail service in this country. A freight derailment put us on a non-airconditioned bus from Pittsburgh to Washington – six hours. But finally, we were there, getting lost in the traffic on the streets of the capitol.

Loews’ Le Enfant Plaza Hotel is fittingly difficult to find and to get to through traffic given the man it is named after – the French designer of the capitol itself. Wherever they go, be it Saigon, Washington or various colonial backwaters, the French seem to have a need to ensure that inhabitants of that place will be as miserable trying to move about as are the inhabitants of Paris. Rested and fresh from a leisurely train journey? Of course not, but much in need of a good strong drink, duly and well provided at our hotel.

dailysportscar.comOn Friday, when we would otherwise have been covering ALMS testing at Road Atlanta, we set off for Sharpsburg, Maryland, the site of the battle that in the Union was referred to as Antietam, and in the Confederacy as Sharpsburg. (Although there are some cases of agreement, such as Vicksburg, the north generally named a battle after a terrain feature, such as Bull Run Creek, and the south after a nearby village or town, such as Manassas. Those are references to a site at which two battles were fought, first and second Bull Run – or Manassas.) Antietam is a creek.

As was getting to be a habit on this trip, we got lost en route – and ended up in Birkettsville (right), Maryland, a town that Jeannie announced an immediate liking for. “That figures,” I observed, since it was the site of the film phenomenon “The Blair Witch Project,” and got a bruise for my weak attempt at humor.

Antietam ended the 1862 invasion of Maryland, and is a battle that amply demonstrates the tactical maneuver skills of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee, and also the bumbling idiocy of one of the worst field commanders of all time, Union General George McClellan. The latter was an opponent who alone would ensure that Lee would be judged by most to be a genius. This one day battle was the bloodiest single day in American history – more dead than June 6, 1944, more than September 11, 2001 – more than seven thousand dead.

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A sunken road (above), which easily earned its name “The Bloody Lane” became the grave of thousands. Neither army was driven from the field, but loss of nearly a third of his army led to the withdrawal of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia the next day, and the perception of no less than a draw by the Army of the Potomac. This result, finally not a disaster for the north, gave President Abraham Lincoln the political cover he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the “several states then in rebellion.”

dailysportscar.comSaturday, during practice and qualifying at Road Atlanta, we journeyed to the Gettysburg National Military Park and to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the latter dedicated in November 1863 by Lincoln in a speech known simply as “The Gettysburg Address.” I first visited Gettysburg in 1995 with my three children. It is one of the simplest and best things I have done for them – or for myself. Unlike Antietam, Gettysburg casts doubt on the genius of Lee – especially now that historians have largely absolved Confederate Corps Commander General James Longstreet of responsibility for the Confederate disaster. That earlier theory of the battle was one vociferously pursued by fellow Confederate commander Jubal Early throughout his life, and is along with Early himself now largely discredited. The “short version” seems that a physically and emotionally weakened Lee simply misjudged the ability of his troops to carry an easily defensible Federal position.

The fighting at Gettysburg, northwest of the capitol at Washington, raged for three days. A loss by the Army of the Potomac would have left the capitol open to Lee’s invasion. As it was, Union General George Meade’s ability to hold his ground against Lee’s assaults again resulted in Lee’s withdrawal the day after the battle, and not only ended the threat to Washington in 1863, but is generally accepted to be the “high water mark” of the Confederacy. In fact, a monument in the “Copse of Trees” near the “Angle” marks the furthest advance of Lee’s army, in “Pickett’s Charge” on the third day, as just that. With Lee’s defeat, all hope for recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France ended, and with it all hope for the survival of the southern states as an independent nation. The war would go on for nearly two more years but it was, after Gettysburg, only a matter of time.

dailysportscar.comLike other battlefields, Gettysburg is a place of great tragedy. But also like other battlefields, it is a testament to courage, to fidelity and to the dedication of soldiers. Lincoln, in his famous dedication of the National Cemetery acknowledged that “in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or detract.” Historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author James M. McPherson, in the short (and highly recommended) book “Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg,” writes “More than any other place in the United States, this battlefield is indeed hallowed ground.” 165,000 soldiers – 75,000 Confederate, 90,000 Union – fought at Gettysburg in those first three days of July, 1863. The 50,000 casualties (including 11,000 killed and mortally wounded, hundreds yet unknown) – 27,000 Confederate, 23,000 Union – were almost ten times the number of American casualties on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

dailysportscar.comI can convey none of the pathos of this place. Some is tragic, some is soaringly heroic. One of the enduring and immensely popular stories of Gettysburg is that of the Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its commander, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in part because of Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Killer Angels.” In 1886 Chamberlain returned to the place on the field of battle where the Regiment turned away the last assault of the Thirteenth Alabama only the side of Little Round Top saving the Union left from likely collapse. His words on that day capture far better than I what the importance to us of such places should be. “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where great things were suffered and done for them…” This is a place “where great things were suffered and done...” Should the opportunity arise, do not hesitate to go stand where “spirits linger.”

Sunday was spent with Mary Jo and Tom, Jeannie’s friends, in the pretty town of Frederick, Maryland, then Monday before leaving for home, we went to Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington House was the home of Robert E. Lee, so it was it was with some amount of malice that this place was selected to bury the Union dead from the battle of Manassas. Arlington holds the grave of thousands of the dead from all of America’s wars from the Civil War on, and of many other famous Americans including boxer Joe Louis and of course John Kennedy (below).

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Arlington is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a shrine to all such unknowns, where the guard is solemnly changed every half hour.

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Later that day we departed for home. En route we had a short visit in Chicago with Jeannie’s cousin Cindy. We’ll be required to wear the Bears regalia she sent for Christmas if that team wins a title of any kind – I wonder if I should be concerned. We had checked dailysportscar every day to keep up with the action from Road Atlanta. We could see that we had missed a good race and an enjoyable event. We are none-the-less not disappointed that we made this trip.

We look forward to seeing you at Infineon Raceway, and at the remaining ALMS races in the 2003 season.

Sincerely,


Tom Kjos

 

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