Streams

Is New York Ready for NASCAR?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

"Welcome to the Staten Island Motor Speedway." That's what NASCAR promoters hope they'll be saying soon. International Speedway Corporation has a tentative deal in place to purchase an industrial site near the Goethals Bridge . The plan is to build an 80,000 seat speedway and get millions of nearby residents to adopt America 's fastest growing sport. But is New York ready for NASCAR?W NYC's Dan Blumberg sought to find out.

Totto Marino has two main complaints about bringing NASCAR to Staten Island . The first is relatively mundane:

Marino: For what? the traffic is already terrible here? You want to increase it a little more? That's ridiculous.

As for his second reason well just ask this former Bensonhurst turned Staten Island resident if he's interested in attending a race

Marino: For what you sit around and watch cars go round and round you get braindead you get stupid It's a country thing

Actually NASCAR was a country thing. But these days the focus is on making it a city thing, too.

Graham: We are in the #2, 3, and 4 markets in the country Conspicuously absent is #1.

John Graham is the Vice President of Business Affairs at the International Speedway Corporation.

He says New York has a lot to offer NASCAR.

Graham: New York is the number one market in country, it's number one in media and number one in an overall sense, so we have very much wanted to be in the New York City area we've studied looked, studied looked so this would be the end of a fairly long journey for us

Well, if NASCAR has been studying New York for years maybe it's time New York took a closer look at NASCAR.

On a recent Sunday over 100,000 people headed to the Poconos for the Pennsylvania 500.

The huge grass parking lot filled up with row upon row of cars, pick-up trucks, motor homes, and big rigs, with license plates from Illinois , Maine , the Carolinas , New Jersey and New York .

And then there's the Boogity Boogity Bus piloted by Jeff Tripp of Jordan , New York .

Tripp: Oh the bus, bought it at an auction cheap everybody helped out, stickered it out put the rack on the top makes a good wagon to party in.

In case you missed it Jeff welded a metal rack on top of his bus . It's a rooftop viewing stand - complete with a barbeque - that allows him and his crew to peer over the other RV's and check out the race from the parking lot.

Like a lot of other fans, Jeff didn't just come down for Sunday's race. He and 20 of his friends and family camped out from Thursday night on. And on race day they showed up early. At 8:30am - still 5 hours from race time - they had BBQ's blazing and coolers overflowing with Budweisers bottled at the plant where Jeff works near Syracuse .

He says you have to see a race for yourself to really understand it.

Tripp: Well, when you come to the track it's the noise it's the speed you don't get that when you watch on TV it's all the fans, it's this stuff right here it's the flags, the buses, the people hooting and hollering, the camping, the smoke, the cooking breakfast here in the parking lot, that's the stuff that, you know, you really love, you know?

Staten Islander Corey Sanigan was also hanging out the parking lot before race time. Her husband got her into NASCAR four years ago.

Sanigan: He brought me to a race and I was a little skeptical. I didn't want to watch a bunch of cars going in circles, but it's really a lot of fun. Like, once you find a driver you like it's really fun to watch him Ricky Rudd! Hey .

Across from the big grass parking lot beyond the grandstands and in the track's infield. is the almost mile long garage.

Drivers, mechanics, and their crews buzz around in brightly colored uniforms stamped with sponsors' names, such as: Dodge, Budweiser, Army, and Viagra. Fans with seek autographs and check out their favorite cars.

Mark Probus is the fuel man for the number 19 car.

Sitting back, as he chews tobacco, the Kentucky native who everybody calls Tank says anyone can get into NASCAR even people who ride the subway more than they do the highway.

Probus: There's probably no one in the country that even if they don't have a car that there parents didn't have a car or there parents didn't have a little dream car, like your dad didn't have a little Mustang, or your grandpa or someone like that cars are just part of the American tradition.

Racing sounds.

Back on Staten Island Robin Bell says a new racetrack could revitalize another old tradition.

He remembers going to Port Richmond's Weissglass Speedway.

Bell: And everybody used go out on a Saturday night and we would sit in the stands and they would race cars down the track and they would have the funny cars and they would crash into each other and it was something we grew up on Staten Island was the Wesiglass car races.

Weissglass closed in 1972, but a whole new generation of car lovers may be ready to pick up where their parents left off.

At least according to Sylvia Soboda.

Soboda: A lot of kids race cars out on the island, so why not? It'll give them a place to go, something to do. On the island we need something exciting, adventurous. Kids like that now. Ever since he Fast and the Furious came out, that's the thing. Just hook up your car and race.

Outside the Staten Island mall, her friend Ray Vazquez nods along. Ray is into cars.

Blumberg: What kind of car do you drive?

Vazquez: I got a '89 Corolla souped up show it off, lights, rims everything, just show it off the car system all of that.

Blumberg: And you and your buddies you think you go to the track and enjoy it?

Vazquez: All the time, all the time. We've been talking about it for a long time now because we knew it was coming, cuz I wouldn't travel out the way out to there to see it, but I would come see it here.

Despite Ray and Sylvia's wishes, a NASCAR track is at least five years away.

And it won't be little Weisglass Speedway

It'll be an 80,000 seat racetrack that will likely draw people from all over the country.

So how are all those people gonna get there?

Well, the proposed site is practically underneath the Goethals Bridge but the bridge the Jersey Turnpike, and surrounding roads are already jammed to capacity.

International Speedway Corporation says it would use buses and ferries to get fans to the Speedway , but the already heavy traffic will likely reach nightmarish levels on the 2-3 major race weekends a year.

The Mayor and Staten Island president borough president have both spoken favorably about the track idea, despite the lack of specifics available.

Staten Islanders have two views on the extra traffic.

There's the Jose Olivera school of thought:

Olivera: Not to happy about it because it'll bring a lot more traffic you know this is a small town. We have enough problems with smog and we just don't need the overcongestion.

And there's Fran Ferraro's attitude:

Ferraro: It'd be nice I have to live with it It's crowded as it is, what's a little more?

That will probably be decided by environmentalists, community activists, and politicians.

International Speedway Corporation hopes to close on the Staten Island site by November. It is also looking at several other local sites, just in case

For WNYC, I'm Dan Blumberg

Song: "Dale Daryl Waltrip Richard Petty Rusty . . ." by Tim Wilson, from Speedway Records album Thunder Road

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