An L.I.E. Racetrack? Fuhgetaboutit!
October 24, 2008
This op-ed piece is personal. It was submitted to Newsday, but not published.
My favorite time to drive on the Long Island Expressway is
on Sunday mornings, when it appears nearly empty. My hormones beg me to step on
the gas, pretending I am in Monte Carlo or Daytona. Fortunately, my better
judgment keeps me within 60 miles per hour. In the two weeks between
centennial of the
Long Island Motor Parkway and the New York City Marathon, a thought sparked
in my mind- what if the Long Island Expressway were to be used for professional
racing once a year?
“I don’t think the public would allow it,” said Westbury resident Sam Berliner III, 74, who designed a website on the history of the Long Island Motor Parkway. Opened in 1906 by William K. Vanderbilt II, the 45-mile parkway opened in 1906 as the state’s first limited-access roadway. Charging a $2 toll, it was built for a wealthy clientele that enjoyed high speeds. In 1908, a crowd of a quarter million watched the first 10-mile Vanderbilt Cup on the parkway.
The excitement of racing was quickly tempered by safety concerns. “Races on the Motor Parkway lasted only three years,” said Berliner. “It ran on a limited stretch, and people got killed.” As a result, Berliner believes that the public would not allow the expressway to be used for professional racing. “Racing on public roads has been banned since 1911,” said Berliner. “There is not enough space on Long Island for a racetrack.”
As disruptive as a 71-mile race may be to local traffic, is it really any more disruptive than the New York City Marathon? This annual event takes place on the first Sunday of every November, its route splitting the city for a few hours with its path. As a concession, the expressway could hold its race on a quiet day, such Christmas or New Years morning, when most motorists are expected to be at home. Michael Sharkey, chief of staff at the Suffolk County sheriff’s office disagrees. “There’s never a day when the highway isn’t in use. A race would be impossible to accomplish,” Sharkey said.
“There is not enough space on Long Island for a racetrack,” Berliner said. Long Island once had racetracks in Freeport, Islip, and Bridgehampton. Today, only Riverhead Raceway remains. “We don’t have a racetrack culture on Long Island,” said Long Beach resident Danny Teigman, 27. “It’s ironic, we are all about the car.”
Not to be disappointed, I reached out to Eileen Peters, the Long Island spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, which operates the expressway. “In my ten years here, there’s never been such a proposal,” Peters said.
The closest that New York City has come to hosting professional racing was a
proposed NASCAR raceway on Staten Island, which was scuttled in December 2006,
following massive local opposition.
Roslyn resident Guy Frost shared my disappointment. “There is a market for NASCAR everywhere,” said Frost, an amateur racecar driver. “Local governments are not interested, and a great effort would be needed to permit private racing.”
Stories of racing-related accidents and deaths regularly appear in the press. The LIE is not only the island’s longest parking lot; it also has a reputation for its reckless drivers.
On October 2, Nassau County Highway Patrol arrested four amateur drag racers on the highway. Often, there offenders have tricked-out cars, vanity plates, average speeds with three-digits, and a proud rap sheet of speeding violations. Combined, the four drivers have 40 violations between them for that night alone. Wouldn’t it be interesting to give these death-defying demons their own day on the highway? They could even attract an international spectator audience. It works for Monaco.