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The Controversial Decision to Host a Dallas Grand Prix

In 1984, the F1 calendar was left with a gaping hole after the Long Beach Grand Prix, a popular event in the US, was dropped. Desperate to fill this gap, F1’s governing bodies hastily accepted an offer from a group of Texan businessmen to host the Dallas Grand Prix in early July.

This decision to race in the blistering Texan heat mid-summer would prove controversial. So too would the choice of venue – a mix of narrow concrete-lined streets surrounding the Cotton Bowl Stadium. Still, with promises of a world-class event, the Grand Prix went ahead, albeit with serious last-minute concerns over the quality of the track surface.

A Track Falling Apart & Calls for a Boycott

As early track sessions got underway, the Dallas street circuit immediately drew the ire of drivers. Bumpy, narrow, lined with walls, and with barely any run-off, the circuit was daunting enough even before the extreme heat entered the equation.

But worse was to come. As temperatures exceeded 100°F (38°C), the track surface began breaking up into gravel-like chunks. With surfaces reading an incredible 150°F(65°C), drivers called for the race to be postponed. Yet organizers of the Dallas Grand Prix, not wanting to lose their grand prize, pressed on with last-gasp repairs.

These repairs did little to ease concerns. The morning warm-up was canceled to allow cement to set, but Alain Prost and Niki Lauda discussed a boycott. Ultimately the race went ahead, but the drivers were left with a frightening challenge – survive 68 laps on a disintegrating racetrack in blistering heat.

An All-Lotus Front Row Offers Early Promise

In qualifying of the Dallas Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell scored his first-ever pole position, heading up an all-Lotus front row with teammate Elio de Angelis. Derek Warwick lined up an impressive 3rd for Renault, ahead of Ferrari’s Rene Arnoux, while Niki Lauda and a young Ayrton Senna completed row three.

There was optimism that thirty-eight-year-old Keke Rosberg could also challenge his unreliable Williams-Honda. The 1982 World Champion had a knack for street circuits, and hoped to add to his Monaco victory from the previous year.

As such, there were plenty of drivers sensing an opportunity to take victory as the field rolled away on the opening lap – albeit with Arnoux forced to start from the back after his Ferrari engine stalled.

Williams teammates Jacques Laffite and Keke Rosberg enduring the Texan heat –

Early Drama Sees Mansell and Warwick Crash Out

Polesitter Mansell led away cleanly, now hunted by teammate de Angelis and an aggressive Warwick. The two black-and-gold Lotuses streaked ahead, but on lap 4 Warwick barged past de Angelis for 2nd. For ten laps, Mansell artfully held his charging countryman at bay until Warwick’s challenge ended in the barriers.

Now with a lead of several seconds, Mansell looked untouchable. But his earlier defenses had taken a toll on his tires. Struggling for grip, he slipped down the order before pitting for new rubber. Rejoining in 7th, his race then ended in misery with a late gearbox failure while battling for points.

Prost and Rosberg Battle as Track Continues to Crumble

With Mansell and Warwick gone, Rosberg, who had started 8th, made swift progress in the early stages. After getting by Prost, then de Angelis, he swept into the lead on lap 37 after Mansell’s puncture.

Yet, Prost would fight back. The Frenchman stalked, then re-passed Rosberg on lap 49. But now Prost’s Michelin tires wilted in the intense heat. On lap 58 of the Dallas grand Prix, battling severe understeer, he clipped a wall and damaged his front wing, handing the lead back to Rosberg.

Prost was not the only casualty as the race entered the final ten laps. The track, already disintegrating early on, continued to break up. Combined with exhaustion setting in for drivers and teams working in dangerous heat, crashes, and mechanical failures were rife.

Rosberg Holds Firm as Others Falter

Avoiding the growing list of pitfalls, Rosberg maintained his advantage out front. His only threat came from Arnoux, who’d drive through the field from last on the grid to reach 2nd.

Arnoux closed in rapidly, at times taking several seconds a lap out of Rosberg. But the Finnish driver kept his cool to secure an unlikely victory of the Dallas Grand Prix. In a race where so many faltered and failed, Rosberg proved the exception, finally steering his Williams home after nearly two grueling hours.

There would be one last dramatic moment as 3rd placed Nigel Mansell sensationally collapsed from heat exhaustion while attempting to push his stricken Lotus across the finish. After all that had come before it, this final scene felt like an apt climax to a breathtaking, brutal, and in places bizarre Grand Prix.

Nigel Mansell collapses in heat pushing his Lotus to the line – Photo: Motorsport Images

An Unforgettable, Unrepeatable Grand Prix

The 1984 Dallas Grand Prix went down as an infamous chapter in Formula 1 history for all the wrong reasons. Yet, against the backdrop of an impossibly challenging racetrack and extreme conditions, the determination shown by drivers and teams to somehow succeed made it an extraordinary sporting event.

Of course, F1 would never return to Dallas after the fiasco of 1984. But the race did leave an indelible mark, contributing a truly unique, unbelievable, and unforgettable story to the rich tapestry that is Formula 1.

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