Washington will be the site of at least one major-league auto race in 2002 or 2003, according to Bobby Goldwater, president and executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
"The commission is talking to two different organizations that want to sanction a race here," Goldwater said. "The American Le Mans Series and CART [Championship Auto Racing Teams] are each proposing a race. They are two different concepts, two different everythings - except they agree this would be a great place."
The commission, which has been studying the pros and cons of each proposal, agrees.
"Our feeling is this is a great location and the time is right to introduce a major race," Goldwater said. "I don't feel we can go from zero to two all at once. We want to be sure [the] one we choose will have the best chance to succeed."
Goldwater said he expects a decision to be made "within weeks."
One of the charges of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is to find sports entertainment and special events for RFK Stadium, the D.C. Armory and the District as a whole.
Working closely with him is Peter LaPorte, chairman of Mayor Anthony A. Williams' Special Events Task Force. It's the Task Force's job to oversee operational issues for every major event that comes into the District - everything from the proposed race to a new D.C. marathon scheduled for March.
LaPorte said last night he believes if the proposed races "are done right," Washington can successfully support two.
"It's imperative, as we in the Baltimore-Washington area pursue the Olympic Games, that we look at major new events to come into our region," LaPorte said. "It takes a great deal of coordination, but certainly, both [Baltimore] Mayor [Martin] O'Malley and Mayor Williams have indicated both cities are open for business.
"I think a race - or two - will be great," he continued. "Bobby and I are working very closely on this and I think two races are not out of the question. "
The American Le Mans Series estimates its economic impact on the District at from $30 million to $35 million. The impact of a CART race has been projected at $40 million.
No one from the two organizations would say what specific venues are being considered within the District, but LaPorte said speculation that the Le Mans Series would utilize the RFK Stadium area, while CART promoters were looking at a city street course, was his understanding, too.
The American Le Mans Series was established in 1999, after its founder, Don Panoz, forged an agreement with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race in France.
The series was designed to bring smaller versions of the world's most famous endurance race to venues in North America, as well as other parts of the world, in a series of events that would determine an overall champion.
The event proposed for Washington would include four races, including a Trans Am Series event, a World Challenge race and a celebrity race, which promoters hope would include members of Congress, plus an auto expo.
Shortly after the establishment of the American Le Mans Series, National Grand Prix Holdings LLC, approached the city about a sports car race and in June of last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the D.C. commission to pursue a racing event.
Goldwater acknowledges the memorandum with the Le Mans Series, but says "it doesn't preclude us from going a different way."
Which, apparently, opens the door for CART.
Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Downs Entertainment Inc., also approached Washington officials last summer at the direction of CART, which is trying to reorganize itself into a series distinct from the oval-based Indy Racing League.
"It would certainly be a home run for CART to get a race in Washington," McGlynn said. "Where better for international appeal?"
CART has been an open-wheel series with events on temporary street courses as well as on established oval race tracks and has events not only in the United States but as far away as Japan.
About a year and a half ago, CART officials asked McGlynn, whose organization runs the very successful street race in Long Beach, Calif., to look into duplicating that event in other cities.
Washington was on the list of cities, and though CART's management has changed three times over the past 18 months, the directive has not, McGlynn said.