Keeping It Off the Wall|
by Ed Donath
“If I can make it dere…”
Brooklyn, NY—It isn’t often that I return to the part of New York City in which I was born and raised. Incredibly, 30 years have past since my daily commutes to a job in Manhattan, and it will soon be 20 years since I moved 125 miles upriver of the Big Apple’s city limits to The Sticks.
Of course, you don’t have to live quite that far from Times Square to be in The Sticks because, as every New Yorker knows, The Sticks are anyplace north or west of the George Washington Bridge and south of Staten Island.
You can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy. After all these years I still talk faster, drive faster, and think faster than most people outside of New York. Nonetheless, present-day New Yawkahs take me for a hick because much of my formerly thick Brooklyn accent has disappeared as a result of being an Upstate-ah for so long.
Although I may not recognize many of today’s trendy New York restaurants, hotels, boutiques, and nightspots, I can still locate them as quickly as any current resident can. Unlike the accent, knowledge of New York City geography gained during a summer taxi driving stint along with the ability to quickly locate addresses hasn’t faded a bit from my memory.
I’d bet that Kentuckian Danny Sullivan—a fellow NYC cabby during that long hot summer—hasn’t forgotten much about the nooks and crannies of Gotham’s Five Boroughs either. While I’m hard-pressed to prove it, I believe that the “spin and win” Indy 500 champion and I had at least one heated dice over a piece of Checker Marathon-sized piece of real estate in the competitively crowded streets of Manhattan.
Another safe bet is that Sully would readily admit to this day that New York’s cabbies are the most fearless and aggressive drivers he ever competed against. I’d like to believe that I did my part to help Danny come to that realization.
“How about an international Champ Car race around the World Trade Center after the rebuild,” I asked my cabbie, Jack Bloom of Bensonhurst. Jack is a life-long Brooklyn resident who began his hacking career around the time that Sullivan and Donath hung up their driving sneakers.
“Whaddya nuts, Pallie?” Jack replied. “Why would any buddy schlep downtown on da weekend ta watch farrenahs drive around when we got da Yanks, da Mets, da Knicks and da Rainjahs right heeah? Plus dere’s footbawl across da rivah in Joisy. Besides, uddah den me, who else BUT farrenahs is drivin’ around in dese streets anyway?”
Just to set the record straight, New York is easily the least xenophobic, most multi-cultural city on the planet. The pre-PC term for this town is “melting pot”.
Granted, Jack Bloom doesn’t know from Champ Cars but he also doesn’t know from stock cars or any other kinds of cars. To Jack, the World of Outlaws is a B-western he thinks he remembers seeing one Saturday afternoon at the Rialto on Flatbush Avenue when he was nine years old.
Regardless, even the preponderance of New York’s “farreneahs” are demographically different from those who follow Champ Cars in other American metropoli. The Middle Eastern, Russian, and Far Eastern population is huge here but while there are many Latin Americans there are proportionately fewer Mexicans and Brazilians than in other US cities.
Soccer is a far bigger international sport in New York than is motor racing. When you say “F1” to most New Yorkers they think that you’re fiddling with your camera, looking for a subway station, or cursing at them. As a result of the lack of motorsports interest, ticket sales for a Champ Car race in New York could be very disappointing.
When there are 10,000 people walking around on any given New York City street the area actually looks empty. The last tickertape parade they had to honor the World Series-winning Yankees attracted over a million people to the Canyon of Heroes. Nonetheless, there was plenty of room left over for wilders and trash can paper fire arsonists to have a field day.
Busloads of Champ Car fans will arrive on race day from the tony suburbs in Long Island, Westchester County, and nearby New Jersey and Connecticut. I’m certain that all 987-or-so of the stalwarts from these areas wouldn’t miss the event for anything.
Upstate New Yorkers from as far away as Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Albany will also be there and you can figure them for at least another 400-500 tickets. Racing fans and tourists from around the globe will book vacations in New York City the very moment that a race date is announced.
Therefore, my optimistic attendance prediction for race day is 43,000. Ironically, that’s pretty close to the number of fans who show up at Exhibition Place in Toronto—for the Friday afternoon provisional qualifying session.
Attendance for the last metro-New York CART event—races were held from 1984 through 1992 at the New Jersey Meadowlands Sports Complex about five crow-flying miles from Midtown—was a paltry 24,000. While there was plenty of cheap and free parking at the Meadowlands I can’t even imagine what the “entrepreneurs” might charge for scarce parking in lower Manhattan.
“So wheah is it dat ya livin now, Pallie?” Jack the cabbie asked me after awhile.
“Athens, Jack…it’s not too far from the State Capital in Albany,” I answered a bit sheepishly.
“Attins, Smallbany, Schmickago, Podunk—it’s awl the same sticks ta me. And unless ya kiddin yaself ya prolly know dats da truth,” Jack observed. “Aay, it wuz very nice tryin ta tawk ta Pallie…don’t faget ya little laptop dere when ya leave the cab.”
Believe it or not, Jack’s sincere-but-wiseass-just-the-same commentary sums up precisely why we need to have a Champ Car race in the streets of New York City.
Although New Yorkers themselves are not very likely to be supportive, let alone converted, the rest of us who live in The Sticks—which, of course, is everywhere else—would certainly have to sit up and take notice.
A race in the glamorous skyscraper-studded Big Apple would move the Champ Car World Series to the top of the International Cities Recognition List while giving it a cosmopolitan leg up on every other racing series and many of the stick and ball sports.
In the long run a New York City race would pay big dividends regardless that it is likely to take a huge number of radio giveaway and comp tickets to fill the grandstands. Even out here in The Sticks where you and I live, Madison Avenue is synonymous with advertising—and more than anything else that is exactly what a street race in the Big Apple would generate.
Like my cabby Jack Bloom might say if he were a Champ Car fan and had been reading my columns over the years…
“Aaay, Pallie. Whadduz ar beluvid speed spawt need maw den a good shot a genyouin Madison Avinyou?”
[Editor’s Note: The preceding commentary is adapted from a November 2000 story originally written for Champ Car magazine.]
Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.
Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.
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