With the new USGP F1 race slated to grace to the cliffs of New Jersey in 2013, I couldn't help but revive my fantasy about having a vintage racing festival on this side of the Hudson that would truly be worthy of the title "Grand Prix of New York." As anyone who has ridden the park's outer drive by bicycle knows, the course would be thrilling, challenging, and has fantastic changes in elevation and camber. The inset below shows the northern end of the park in detail. For those who live elsewhere, note that this is a very hilly section!
"Oh, but the birdwatching blue noses on the Upper East Side will never let that happen!" I hear you cry. Possibly, but consider if you will that among the very wealthy population of the UES, there are a number of classic car owners, and I think if the event were limited to cars from before 1965 (this is an arbitrary number, but generally cars from before this period were lower displacement and had thinner tires), the speeds and the noise levels could be kept low enough to fend off most attacks on the noise and potential danger of racing in the park. Why should we be denied the pleasures of scenes like this:There is a remarkably good precedent for this type of civilized racing in the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, held annually in that city's Schenley Park. The above pictures were in fact taken at this event, which has been going on for years. If Pittsburgh can pull off an event of this type safely and successfully for years, why can't New York City? If we can have 35,000 runners take over the entire city for the marathon, and if we can close bridges and tunnels for the 5-borough bike tour, I would say the impact of closing the outer drive of Central Park for one weekend a year seems pretty darn easy for the "City that Never Sleeps!" The event could be one of prestige and glamour. Paired with a concours, it could easily find its place among the first rank of automotive events. Sure the logistics would be a challenge, but I don't think it can be any worse than the many disruptive events we already have. Given the high income level of the audience and participants, blue chip sponsorship from financial institutions and luxury goods producers would not be hard to come by. (Any Occupy Wall Street protests will easily be drowned out by the symphony of finely tuned engines.)
I'm obviously not the first to fantasize about this race through the park. Back in 1965, race promoter Alec Ulmann, of Sebring 12 Hours fame, proposed the very same idea in Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 4, No. 1). He felt that New York should have a Monaco-style Grand Prix right in its heart, and reserved harsh words for the all-powerful Parks Commisioner Robert Moses for scuppering his plans, as well as multiple previous attempts in the 1950's to run exactly such a race. The map from Ulmann's article is reproduced here for your enjoyment. Click below to enlarge the full circuit map and ask yourself, why couldn't they do this?