WASHINGTON - The sun was blazing hot Thursday afternoon, as sports car driver David Brabham stood in front of the U.S. Capitol rhapsodizing about what it means to the American Le Mans Series to come here next July for a race on a temporary road course at RFK Stadium.
"When they first told me we were going to have this race, my initial reaction was `Wow!' " he said, sweat rolling down his tanned face. "It's a great city, known around the world, and for our series to come here, to hold one of our races in the capital, it's good for all of us.
"This will be the pinnacle stop for our series."
Brabham, 35, is the son of three-time Formula One champion Jack Brabham and drives for Panoz Motor Sports. His car owner, Don Panoz, created the series in 1999. Panoz felt endurance sports car racing in this country needed to be organized, and he set about doing it under an agreement with Automobile Club de l'Ouest. The ACO sanctions the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's greatest endurance race.
Under the ACO's license, Panoz was able to organize a league using the ACO's rules and name. It meant cars from the prestigious Le Mans race also could easily race in the ALMS and that cars racing in the ALMS would be given special consideration by ACO in the selection of the 48-car field for the 24 Hours.
The association brought credibility to the young series.
But when the Washington announcement was made last week, it was difficult to know just who would be benefiting the most. Which is how it should be if the deal is good.
The July 17-21 event will be, as former Maryland Stadium Authority head John Moag Jr. said, "a high-end race" with appeal to government and international business entities.
"It has the demographics that make the event well-suited to Washington," said Moag, a partner in Grand Prix Holdings, promoter of the D.C. race.
The worldwide appeal of motor sports is not lost on Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, who said: "Professional racing showcases some of the world's greatest cities: Melbourne, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Montreal. I'm proud Washington, D.C., is a member of that group."
Kevin Chavous, councilman for the ward where the race will be held, said he is originally from Indianapolis and knows well "what it is to hear those engines roar." He is also aware of the economic benefits expected to come into his ward - $350 million over the 10-year deal.
"It's a big boon to our community," he said.
Bobby Goldwater, president of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said he hasn't heard a single complaint about the race from the community around RFK.
How can that be? The Le Mans Series comes with all the negatives of any other motor race - noise, trash, crowds, traffic. But Goldwater and the various groups and organizations he contacted made sure it also came with benefits.
The parking lots at RFK, in much need of repair, will be paved in a joint effort between the city and National Grand Prix Holdings, which is staging the race, and be maintained year-round.
New medians, new trees and new drains will come, as will summer jobs for local high school and college students and adults, and fund-raising opportunities will arise for local organizations.
Safety Clean, a business that deals in meeting environmental standards, will guarantee the area's cleanup. Chris Lencheski, chairman of National Grand Prix, said his organization and Safety Clean are considering building a permanent facility for the reclamation of oil and other hard-to-dispose-of fluids, which would even help the local car owner who changes his own oil.
Any race can be an intrusion, but Goldwater worked to make sure the benefits outweighed the negatives.
There's a lesson here for any community being approached about any new event - even beyond auto racing. In Washington, they asked the hard questions and waited patiently until they got a deal that worked for their city.
"This will be a benefit for the rest of our events at the stadium," Goldwater said. "It will be good from environmental point of view - good for every reason."
Nuts and bolts
Nick Woodward's debut in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last weekend at Indianapolis Raceway Park was a success. The Preston native finished 11th after just 35 laps of practice in the truck.
"It was a good experience," said Woodward, 21. "It was a very satisfying night."
Winston Cup driver Jeff Gordon is going for a Winston Cup-record seventh road racing victory at Watkins Glen, N.Y., today. If he gets it, it might be because of some recent practice.
His wife Brooke gave him "Ferrari 355 Challenge" for his birthday, Aug. 4. The computer game has six different road courses on it. The day after Gordon received it, his wife said with a sigh, "He's already won on all six of them."
Representatives of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have sought advice from Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage and his staff while initiating talks with Richard Childress Racing about possibly forming a NASCAR Winston Cup team.
Saturday night at Hagerstown Speedway, the Renegade Stars Late Model Series will make its third visit of the year for the Conococheague 100. The 100-lap event's winner will get $10,000. Joining that event will be late model sportsman, pure stock and four-cylinder pure stocks. Race time is 7 p.m.