2006-07-13 / Top Stories

Gateway Officials Nix Car Racing Plan For Floyd Bennett

By Neil S. Friedman

Officials for the Gateway National Recreation last month rejected a proposal to bring Grand Prix-style racing to Floyd Bennett Field.

In a letter to the promoters of the event at Pennsylvania-based North American Motorsports dated June 13, Gateway superintendent Barry Sullivan wrote that the 10-day "Festival of Speed" was "not appropriate...in a national park" because it breaches park policy and is "not compatible with the purposes for which the park was established."

According to a Gateway spokesperson, the planned racing event was estimated to attract more than 60,000 visitors a day while Gateway's policy is for crowds not to exceed 10,000 people per day.

Most of Floyd Bennett Field's 1,100 acres have been part of the protected Gateway National Recreation Area natural wildlife preserve since 1972. It is home to a variety of bird and animal species, which environmentalists say would be impacted by noisy car racing. Campers, hikers and bicyclists may also use the site.

The planned racing event, according to the promoter, and supported by actor, racing enthusiast and philanthropist Paul Newman, as well as Brooklyn state senators Carl Kruger and Marty Golden, would be two days of car racing over a 3.5-mile temporary racetrack oval and eight days of fundraising and charity events. Newman had also proposed converting old military barracks at Floyd Bennett into an office for his Hole In the Wall Camp for children with terminal illnesses.

Sullivan said that while the racing plan has been rejected, there's still the possibility for future discussions on the charitable summer camp. However, racing promoter Geoffrey Whaling told the New York Sun that the camp "is intrinsically tied" to the auto-racing event from which revenues raised from the racing will be used to operate the camp.

Whaling said he has already appealed the decision by Gateway officials and noted that regulations for the site, including the crowd restriction, are up for review next January. Until then Whaling said he and Newman would attempt to secure support from local communities to bring the Grand Prix event to Floyd Bennett.

Whaling told the Sun, "They have a policy in place that was initiated in the early 1900s for all national parks. Should a national park - and in this case, a recreation area - be under the same rules and regulations as a recreation are in Yosemite?"

Senator Kruger told the Courier this week, "When the regulations are reopened, I am optimistic we'll be able to deal with the rules and capacity."

Kruger claimed that Sullivan has written Paul Newman's people about long-term use development of Floyd Bennett and "whether it is appropriate to use portions of the field to host large public events."

Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose Brooklyn/Queens district encompasses the airfield and is opposed to auto racing there, said, "We welcome smart recreation ideas for Gateway. But this proposal was neither smart nor recreation. The National Parks Service was right to reject it."

Weiner has championed the upcoming $40 million, 170,000 square-foot sports complex that is scheduled to open at Floyd Bennett by early fall.

Floyd Bennett Field, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last May, is named for the man who piloted the aircraft that flew Admiral Byrd on his first polar expedition to the Arctic. Bennett navigated the first plane to fly over the North Pole on May 9, 1926. The airfield, located on the southern end of Flatbush Avenue, was New York City's first municipal airport. During this period, American and United Airlines used DC-3's and conducted regular passenger service to many major cities on the East coast and as far away as Chicago. The field predated Kennedy Airport by more than 25 years.

Such world famous pilots as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post, "Wrong Way" Corrigan and Howard Hughes frequently used the field. During World War II the field was used as a training facility for future pilots.

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