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AUTO RACING New York City Speedway hoping to be ready for opening in 2009



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It will be built on the western coast of Staten Island on a 675-acre site.

WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL

NEW YORK -- The New York City skyline isn't readily visible from the still-imaginary start-finish line of the proposed New York City Speedway on the western coast of Staten Island.

But Michael Printup, the on-site project director for the France family's International Speedway Corp. (ISC), said that the front-stretch grandstand seats will present an early evening view of lower Manhattan in all its twinkling glory, when the track opens, maybe in 2009.

The project, despite the traffic controversy over the infamous 1930s Goethals Bridge, does seem eminently doable -- if not imminently.

At the moment, standing on the Staten Island ferry dock on the Arthur Kill deep-water canal, which would be the gateway to the speedway, the backdrop is giant cargo ships. And up around the bend, where container cranes loom, is Howland Hook.

It's easy to picture the speedway, all spangled and glittery, on this wide-open 675-acre site that stretches more than a mile from the ferry dock to the nearest tree lines, to the east and south. Just ignore the concrete rubble from the previous owner, oil company GATX, and a nondescript 20,000-square foot office warehouse.

The ISC spent $100 million for the site when it came on the market last year. Finding this much land anywhere else in New York City is almost impossible.

A key part of the project, and perhaps a key in its acceptance by Staten Islanders, is a proposed mall, the biggest in the region, and an employer for some 1,300.

Newark Airport nearby

Newark Airport, one of New York City's three major air links to the world, is barely 10 minutes away, making an in-and-out Sunday race adventure quite easy.

But the crowd coming to this place would most certainly be coming for more than just the Richmond-style racing. It would be for the whole New York experience -- Broadway plays, world-class restaurants, the Lincoln Center, the Statue of Liberty, Greenwich Village and Soho and the world-renown museums.

The demographics of the crowd for a New York City Speedway race could be intriguingly different from that of other NASCAR crowds. And a race here would be quite different from the camping experience at nearby Pocono, where still-lamenting Deadheads show up twice yearly at the Nextel Cup races. For 30 years, Pocono has offered the closest NASCAR shows to New York City.

It's only 90 minutes west, but Pocono is a world apart from New York City.

Printup calls himself "a grass-roots campaign manager" for the France family's effort to win the hearts and minds of Staten Islanders. He has been trying to do that a handful at a time, in small presentations throughout the Island over the 60 days since he moved to the borough of about 470,000. It is still really a close-knit village of homeowners far from the bustle of Manhattan.

Another NASCAR experience

"Vegas, California, Daytona, are all experiences," Printup said. "And this will be another NASCAR experience: you come for the race and the plays and the sites, you eat the pizza and bagels, and come over for the race.

"There are a lot of fans here. But, it's funny, you don't have the threes and eights in those special fonts plastered on cars like you do in Daytona, Atlanta and Charlotte. But we're educating."

John Graham, the ISC project boss, said that two Nextel Cup races and an Indy-car race are tentatively scheduled, "probably one in late spring, one in mid-summer, one in early fall."

But the first shovelful of dirt has yet to be turned.

"The blueprint for the track is in place," Graham said. "If tomorrow we had the approvals, we could start construction. However, the rezoning process in New York City takes 24 months.

The New York City council vote is the final step in the process, "and it appears to us that vote would probably take place, given our current progress, 21 to 24 months from now," Graham said. "And it would take about two years from that point to actually build the facility.




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