Throttle-Back Thursday: The 1989 Detroit Grand Prix had the coolest poster in modern racing history

The 1989 Detroit Grand Prix poster — created for the first year CART raced on the streets of the Motor City — was an homage to Diego Rivera’s ‘Detroit Industry’ murals.

This year, we’re celebrating the 30th Detroit Grand Prix with a weekend packed full of IMSA racing and an IndyCar double-header, all held against the Detroit skyline on beautiful Belle Isle.

Racing historians will note that 2019 doesn’t mark the 30th sequential year of top-level racing in Detroit: As with a lot of venues, racing has transpired in the Motor City in fits and starts — though the modern incarnation, which began in 2012 and is still going strong, is the most stable one yet.

Count back 30 races (rather than years) and you’ll wind up with the first Formula 1 Detroit Grand Prix, held in 1982 on a 2.493-mile circuit built on the streets of downtown; Alain Prost was the first to take the checkered flag here. But despite the conceptual appeal of racing through city streets, Monaco it wasn’t: Everyone seemed to hate the punishing downtown road course, and perpetually spotty track conditions didn’t help — to say nothing of the fact that Detroit lacked the glitz, glamour and racing history that helps the Principality overcome the shortcoming of its claustrophobic circuit.

The long-term goal was to move the race to Belle Isle, the Central Park-size (actually, it’s a little bit bigger — take that, NYC!) island park in the Detroit River just north of downtown. But these plans fell through, and the series left the city following the 1988 race. The distinction of winning the final F1 Detroit Grand Prix is held — fittingly, given Prost’s win at the inaugural race — by Ayrton Senna.

Racing, however, did not cease with the departure of F1: Count back 30 years, and you’re back to 1989, when CART stepped in to run the downtown course. Emerson Fittipaldi claimed first place, and Scott Pruett and Mario Andretti filled out the podium. The event did eventually move to Belle Isle in 1992, but the whole enterprise ran out of gas in 2001 (the race did return in 2007, but the revival lasted just two years before the Great Recession slammed the brakes on it).

The 1989 Detroit Grand Prix is especially notable because it had one of the coolest posters of any modern motorsports event that I’ve ever seen: It’s a riff on Diego Rivera’s monumental “Detroit Industry” fresco, which can be viewed at the Detroit Institute of Arts, with the production-line Ford V8s replaced by open-wheel racers.

Is it a tacky pastiche? Maybe, but at least it’s an honest one. And anyway, I’m not an art critic. I’ve had a framed copy hanging in my home for years and years now.

Again, the Detroit Grand Prix’s modern incarnation — which owes much of its success to the vision of Roger Penske — kicked off in 2012 and continues to this day. Before racing kicks off this weekend, check out our coverage of the 1989 Detroit Grand Prix below, and see you on Belle Isle!

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