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Big Apple Seeks Grand Prix, But Watch Out for Pot Holes

October 24, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ George Willig scaled them, tightroper Phillippe Petit walked between them. Now, a promoter wants to send Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan and friends racing around the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The vast office complex is the hub of the proposed New York 200, a grand prix auto race that would be run on the notoriously bumpy and congested streets of the financial district.

″At first blush, it sounds absurd,″ admits Matthew Scheckner, director of the city’s Sports Commission and an advocate of the race. ″People are worried that Mario Andretti’s going to be shaking the orange juice out of their glass in the morning.″

At second blush, it still sounds absurd.

For three days in July a 1.3-mile course would be roped off around the city’s two tallest buildings. Streets where traffic usually crawls - partly because there are so many potholes, partly because there are so many vehicles - would be taken over by about 30 Indianapolis 500-class race cars moving at up to 220 mph.

But earlier this month, enticed by the promoter’s promise of funds for neighborhood projects, a community planning board endorsed the race, which has been run in recent years in New Jersey’s Meadowlands.

The promoter, Frank Yodice of Motormarketing International, admits it will take some work to convert the World Trade Center into a racetrack. Streets must be graded and paved, safety walls and fences installed, bleachers and pedestrian bridges erected.

A pit area would be set up along the curb on Church Street, near the start- finish line. The staging area where cars are parked would be on the trade center’s plaza - at the base of the 110-story towers.

Manhattan’s community planning boards are notoriously resistant to change, but Board No. 1 endorsed the race by a vote of 21-12. The vote apparently was influenced by Yodice’s promise of $350,000 for community projects - about $345,000 more than the board now has.

Board member Harold Donohue compared the majority’s action to ″selling indulgences.″

″After they heard 350 grand, I think my colleagues would have let them drop an atomic bomb down here.″

Donohue says he voted against the race because of the inconvenience it would cause, but that some board members viewed the vote as ″a referendum on the internal combustion engine.″

One is Patricia Dillon, who rides a bicycle to work and does not even own a car.

″An auto race glorifies the automobile,″ she said. ″It’s the wrong signal to be sending with air pollution getting worse and a war over oil about to start.″

Scheckner, the sports commission director, just chuckles over objections. ″You say auto racing in lower Manhattan, and people say ‘No 3/8’ But we’re not going to be running down Wall Street. These are wide streets.″

″Races are held in Monte Carlo, Paris and Detroit,″ he continued, ″and Indy cars burn methanol, which is cleaner than regular gasoline.″

Benefits to the city, he adds, include a $36 million economic infusion and ″leave behinds,″ such as newly paved streets.

The streets are not all the race would polish, he added: ″This is a time we could use a morale boost. And nothing makes New York City look as good as sports on television.″

The 200-mile race would be held on Sunday, with qualifying and practice on Friday and Saturday. Downtown traffic is relatively light on weekends in July, but on Friday, ″they’d be shutting down the streets of the world’s financial center,″ said Donohue.

The race still must be approved by other city officials, including the mayor, and Friday racing is expected to be a key issue. Yodice says he hopes for a running next July, but may have to settle for 1992.

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