Newman’s own racetrack – Star wants place in Bklyn
Hollywood legend Paul Newman has a dream, and Geoffrey Whaling is determined to make it come true.
Rebuffed last June, Whaling, the chief executive officer of North American Motorsport Events, remains undaunted in his quest to bring motorsports to Brooklyn.
Whaling and Newman, his business partner, were told by Gateway National Recreation Area that their plan to bring auto racing to Floyd Bennett Field was incompatible with the mission of a national park.
Since then, Whaling told this newspaper, he has been trying to appeal the decision, and has been meeting with officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as looking at other possible sites.
“We are looking at other space that could be available for this,” he said.
“I have had many people approach me and suggest other options,” he said.
Whaling said he has been traversing much of the borough, eyeing properties.
“He entrusts me to do so,” he said, referring to Newman.
He refused to be specific about where in Brooklyn the event could be accommodated, but would say that he looked at a privately held property in northern Brooklyn, as well as land west of Floyd Bennett Field, which is part of Gateway.
Still, he said, “Floyd Bennett Field remains our first choice.”
None of the other sites “have the bones like Floyd Bennett—it has miles of unused runways,” he noted.
Whaling said he just returned from a race in Florida that was held on a former military base, and will soon attend another event, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, “which, again, is held in part on the runaways of the St. Petersburg Airport.”
The $15 million plan sought to bring racing to the former airport, in the form of an annual race, called the New York Memorial Grand Prix, a feature race of the Champ Car World Series.
Whaling said he has been and “will continue to be open to amending the plan to make it the best for Brooklyn.”
He said the plan could feature more of a sports car element, such as the American Le Mans Series—harkening back to the days when there was sports car racing at Floyd Bennett Field, when it was a military base.
Whaling stressed that none of the construction on the site would be permanent, and the National Parks Service could stand to reap $1 million annually for leasing the space.
Last June, Barry Sullivan, the general superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, said in his decision that the National Park Service is not opposed to Grand Prix or Champ Car racing.
“However, it is not appropriate to have a race of this type in a National Park Service area because it is not compatible with the purposes for which Gateway…was established.”
“There are many questions about the impact this activity might have on park resources and the surrounding community,” Sullivan wrote.
The plan called for a race course to be carved out of the existing airstrips on the site; an estimated 65,000 people were anticipated for the 10-day festival, which would feature three separate car racing events.
“I believe we can host an event at Floyd Bennett Field without impacting traffic,” Whaling said. He said the use of shuttle buses would virtually eliminate any cars on the site.
A portion of the race proceeds were to go to charity, including the conversion of naval barracks at the site into a permanent home for Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, an organization for children with cancer or other serious illnesses.
Whaling said that instead of Newman’s camp, a different camp could be involved, or other charities entirely.
Moreover, he said, there is a chance that North American Motorsport Events, a for-profit venture, could be transformed into a not-for-profit organization, “whose proceeds would be donated back to the community.”
“We are open to all of those things provided it allows the race to be run in a responsible and fiscally prudent manner,” he said.
“I know the economic benefit that this can bring to the community. This is not just a race, it’s a community event,” Whaling said.
Newman hasn’t returned to Brooklyn since he lunched with elected officials last April, Whaling said. Newman, 82, just celebrated his birthday in January and is gearing up for the start of the Champ Car season next month, Whaling said.
A presentation on the project could be forthcoming at the next meeting of Community Board 18. Whaling said that if his schedule allows it, he will attend.By Gary Buiso
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