Trying to create sound of silence for D.C. race

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

August 04, 2002|By Sandra McKee

The Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington was a great success on the racetrack and in the grandstands last month. The only problem - and it was wholly predictable - was the noise generated by racecars near a residential community.

The promoter, Chris Lencheski, and Washington officials were aware of the noise issue from the moment they began negotiating to bring the American Le Mans Series and its companion events to town.

Noise is one of many issues - crowds, parking, traffic, safety - inherent to the sport.

Lencheski and his group, Grand Prix Holdings, did almost everything right. They built a terrific racetrack. They figured a way, using public transportation and shuttle buses, to eliminate the traffic/parking issues.

The one issue that wouldn't go away was noise.

Noise is a no-win issue.

Cities that decide to allow racing simply live with the racket for a weekend. That's what they do in Long Beach, Calif., Milwaukee, Toronto and, soon, Miami. Imagine Le Mans, France, where people actually live within the course and cannot leave if they want to during practices and the 24-hour race.

There are no real answers for noise. As a concession, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission offered to take people away on day trips to places of their choice. They offered to pay for hotel rooms elsewhere in the city so residents, whose work cycle forces them to sleep during the day, could get a good "night's" sleep. And, the first on-track activity wasn't scheduled until 9 a.m. each day, unlike other tracks where engines can begin roaring as early as 7:30.

Next week, Bobby Goldwater, the executive director of the commission, will begin holding meetings with everyone involved - including representatives from the nearby communities - to discuss problems and begin planning for next year's race.

A story last week in The Washington Post implied that Lencheski did not keep his commitments on getting expert help to build a sound-dampening fence. But Lencheski said Grand Prix Holdings had "voluntarily" worked with the city to hold down the noise. He said it is true that George Bittman, who had a design he believed would help solve the problem, did not come to Washington to assist with the building of the fence. But he said that was because GPH had met with Bittman, acquired the design and, after a discussion with Bittman, determined his presence wasn't necessary.

Lencheski said GPH used Bittman's blueprints and built the fence - which had never been tried before - as a good-faith effort. And Denis Huth, president of the International Motor Sports Association, said, "Of all the racetracks we go to, they went well beyond or above what is usually done or naturally done."

Still, they couldn't come close to the city's 60-decibel ordinance.

Lencheski acknowledges that there were problems. Holes had to be cut into the fence for IMSA safety officials to view the track in three corners during the race. Holes had to be cut in it for photographers and television crews.

"There are many issues," Lencheski said. "Driver safety, spectator safety and sound issues. You have to work for a balance, but the worst thing, the worst element - God forbid - would have been a significant accident. So I say, if IMSA needs gaps in the fence to place their corner workers for safety, I'm telling you, the gaps will be there again next year."

Goldwater, who has not spoken to Lencheski since the race, said he will be following up with him to make sure pre-race promises to work toward noise abatement were fulfilled. And, Goldwater added, his commission will require more improvements next year.

Lencheski said he expects the fence - or some variation of it - to be back. He also said research into other possible remedies for noise will continue.

"But I can't cure it," he said. "I wish we could. There are many cities with the same issues, but there just isn't anyone to call who has an answer."

Mystique of Indy

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most famous racetrack in the world. Today, the Winston Cup series will race there in the Brickyard 400 and the winner, whoever it is, will be thrilled.

But if you ask Kyle Petty and John Andretti, two men who have two of the three most famous racing names in the United States, about the place, you get different answers.

"You look at all the major sports and tradition is a big, big factor," Petty said. "It's important not just because it is their history, but because that is what got them to where they are. Baseball is the way it is today, good and bad, because of guys like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Football got a kick from that 1958 championship game that went into overtime and Johnny Unitas drove the Baltimore Colts down the field to win it.

"Stock car racing has no tradition at Indianapolis. There just isn't anything there. You think Indy, you think Andretti, [A.J.] Foyt and [Rick] Mears. You don't think Petty or [David] Pearson."

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