2006-05-12 / Community

Mixed Reaction To Floyd Bennett Auto Racing Plan

By Howard Schwach

Congressman Anthony Weiner, right, discussed plans for a new sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field. Weiner says that the auto racing proposal for the former air station is not going to happen.Congressman Anthony Weiner, right, discussed plans for a new sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field. Weiner says that the auto racing proposal for the former air station is not going to happen. There are powerful forces afoot in relation to the proposal for three days of Grand Prix racing at Floyd Bennett Field each year.

For some, the theme is "Gentlemen, start your engines."

For others, it is "Back it up and park it somewhere else."

The proposal, which was outlined by auto-racing enthusiast and Hollywood icon Paul Newman at a meeting with city officials two weeks ago, would call for three days of open-wheel racing once each year on a 3.49 mile racecourse that would be laid out along the long-dormant runways of the one-time Naval Air Station.

Open-wheel cars are capable of going more than 240 miles per hour and often crash spectacularly. The plan calls for a main championship race to be tied in with a series of celebrity races and other events.

Tickets would cost anywhere from $40 for general admission to $500 for luxury skyboxes. The event is expected to draw in excess of 65,000 people to the park during its three-day run.

Newman envisions a major portion of the money going both to local charities and to build an urban Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, one of a series of camps sponsored by Newman that deal with critically and seriously ill children.

The plan has already sparked heated debate and a strange exchange between Congressman Anthony Weiner, who says that the plan is "illegal for a national park" and State Senator Carl Kruger, who seems to support it.

According to published reports, Kruger was at the meeting where the proposal was made by Newman and officials of North American Motor Sports, the organization that would run the race.

The reports say that one of Weiner's young staffers, who attended the meeting in lieu of the Congressman, stated Weiner's objections to the plan. Kruger "did everything but throw a plate at the staffer."

When the two next met, the report says, at a synagogue dinner in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn, Weiner got in Kruger's face, asking, "Do you have a F___g problem with me?"

In addition, the report says, Weiner called Kruger a "pussy" and warned him not to rough up his staffers again.

Weiner would only say, "I made it clear to the senator that I would not tolerate him berating my staff or any of my constituents,"

He added that he "did not remember cursing" at the senator.

Kruger later chided Weiner for his support of a new sports complex that is presently being built at Floyd Bennett Field.

"I am always excited about new development to develop the long neglected park," Kruger said in a prepared statement. "I cannot comment on the actual proposal since I share with the community the common ground that we have never formally seen the facility or had input into its plans."

Weiner, who has long championed the sports complex that would include ice hockey, football, soccer and basketball facilities, said that the difference between that complex and the racing proposal was one of participation.

"The sports complex provides recreational opportunities for everyday citizens," he said. "That's what parks are supposed to be."

Besides Wiener, who told The Wave that the race plan "has no chance of coming to the park," the major objections have come from environmental groups.

"I've never heard of anything like this, putting an auto racing event in a national park," said Suzanne Mattei an executive with the Sierra Club. "It certainly is not what people think they are setting aside natural resources for when they establish a national park."

Another environmentalist said that should the plan be implemented, it would "threaten more than 100 species of birds" that nest at the park.

National Park Service officials are said to be studying the plan and would offer no comment until the study is completed.

A local spokesperson for Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Floyd Bennett Field, was not available for comment.

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