2006-05-12 / Editorial/Opinion

We're Revved Up Over Gateway Auto Race Plan

Gentlemen, start your engines! Screen legend Paul Newman has a plan that would help to revitalize Floyd Bennett Field, bring auto racing back to New York, help kids who are dying of exotic diseases and cause some excitement locally all at the same time. Newman's plan would bring three days of grand-prix, open-wheel auto racing to a 3.5 mile track set up at the former Naval airfield each year, drawing nearly 200,000 people to the national recreation area over the three days. Proceeds from the races would go to local charities and to create an urban "Hole In The Wall Camp," one of a network of camps that Newman started in 1988 to fulfill the wishes of seriously and critically ill children. We realize that the plan, which seems to us to have no downside, faces some real challenges. The first and foremost is Congressman Anthony Weiner, who often treats the park as his own personal fiefdom. Weiner says that the plan is illegal and that it will happen over his cold, dead body. But Weiner is a major supporter of the sports complex that is now being built by Aviator Sports in the same venue, a complex that will house such sports as football, soccer, ice hockey and basketball. What is so different that makes a football game legal and an auto race illegal? Weiner says that the difference is that the sports complex offers opportunities for participation while the racing proposal does not. That is disingenuous. Many professional sports, heavily attended and highly regarded, do not allow for participation by the ordinary citizen and yet they are inordinately popular. In addition, the park has a regulation that limits attendance at any one event to 10,000 people. That regulation is regularly breached, however, by events as disparate as the Guyanese Festival and the kite festival. Then, there are the environmental groups whose knee-jerk response to any development in any park is a negative one on the grounds that it will somehow disturb the birds. Sure, the noise will cause some consternation among the local wildlife, but we should remember that Floyd Bennett was once a Naval airfield that routinely flew noisy, high-performance jet fighter aircraft in and out of its runways. Nobody seemed to complain much about the noise during those years. More recently, the NYPD flies noisy helicopters out of the park each day. He can hardly believe that three days of activity will harm the birds who live nearby. We urge the National Park Service, which administers the recreation area, to give Newman's plan a try, if only for one year. We think that the area needs some excitement and the sick kids need some help. Put the two together and they spell auto racing at Floyd Bennett Field in the summer of 2007.

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